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Ian Bailey: The English journalist found guilty in France of a notorious murder in Ireland

Bailey repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, dismissing various witnesses as either mistaken or misunderstanding what he described as his black sense of humour

Ian Bailey outside the High Court, Dublin: his health deteriorated seriously after he suffered two heart attacks last September. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ian Bailey, who died suddenly on Sunday from a suspected heart attack at the age of 66, reported as a journalist on the murder of French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in December 1996 but within weeks, he was arrested by gardaí and questioned about the killing.

He was released without charge following that first arrest on February 10th, 1997 and the same was to happen a year later when he was again arrested on January 27th, 1998. A subsequent review of the case by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 2001 concluded there was not sufficient evidence to charge him.

He had remained, however, the chief suspect in the case and in 2019 was found guilty by a French court of the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier. He was sentenced in absentia to 25 years in prison but served no jail time having successfully blocked his extradition in the Irish courts.

Mr Bailey was born, in his own words, “in St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, England on a cold January night in 1957” to master butcher Ken Bailey and his Welsh born wife, Brenda.


Ian Bailey’s father sold his butcher’s shop to Dewhursts, who ran a chain of butcher’s shops, and the family moved around England as Mr Bailey snr trained apprentice butchers for the company. The family settled in Hucclecote near Gloucester where Ian Bailey attended the Crypt school.

A keen sportsman, he played tennis, basketball, cricket and rugby, earning himself a trial for the England under-19 rugby team. Mr Bailey was also a voracious reader, and a chance encounter with a reporter on a family holiday in the Channel Islands planted the idea of journalism as a career.

He told, in a High Court case, how he was inspired by the story of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward breaking the Watergate scandal but while at school, he made it to the front page of the Gloucester Citizen with a tale of how the firefighters were called to deal with a swarm of bees.

He got a job as a trainee reporter with local freelance journalist John Hawkins, who ran an agency supplying national papers and it was while working as an apprentice there that he met a young reporter, Sarah Limbrick. The couple married in the 1970s but the marriage ended in divorce.

Ian Bailey’s three decades in Ireland: Accusations, assaults, legal battles, media scrutinyOpens in new window ]

While freelancing in Gloucester in the 1980s, Mr Bailey contributed to the Sunday Times Insight Team in the coverage of the spying scandal at GCHQ in Cheltenham but, claiming to have become disillusioned with journalism, he moved to Ireland in 1991, having enjoyed a previous visit to the country.

He met Welsh-born artist Jules Thomas while working in the fish factory in Schull in 1991 and, after he initially rented a spare house that she had, they began a relationship. He soon moved in with her and her three daughters at her home at the Prairie, Liscaha in Schull.

Ian Bailey and his former partner Jules Thomas. Bailey received a three-month suspended sentence for assaulting Ms Thomas at their home. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He was living there, and contributing articles to the Southern Star, the Cork Examiner and the Sunday Tribune when Ms Toscan du Plantier’s badly beaten body was found on the laneway to her isolated holiday home at Dreenane, Toormore, about 2.5km from the Prairie.

He covered the murder for various outlets including Paris Match, but this work evaporated after his arrest in February 1997.

In 2001, he assaulted Ms Thomas at their home. He was arrested at Cork Airport and later prosecuted, receiving a three-month suspended sentence. He later admitted it was his third time assaulting Ms Thomas.

He repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier, dismissing various witnesses who believed he had confessed to them as either mistaken or misunderstanding what he described as his black sense of humour. He continued to proclaim his innocence to the end.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the French documentary maker was murdered in west Co Cork, aged 39, on December 22nd, 1996

He took unsuccessful court actions against several newspapers for defamation in 2003, and in 2014 he began a lengthy but ultimately unsuccessful High Court action against the State for wrongful arrest, accusing several named gardaí of conspiring to frame him for the murder.

He was more successful, however, in rebutting three attempts by the French authorities to have him extradited to France – the first two attempts to go on trial for the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier and the third time to serve the prison sentence handed down in absentia.

He separated from Ms Thomas in 2021 and during the past two years lived in rented accommodation in Glengarriff and Bantry provided by the HSE. Over the past six months his health deteriorated seriously after he suffered two heart attacks last September.

He told The Irish Times last month that doctors had told him he had suffered 75 per cent damage to his heart and they were putting him on medication to try to build up the organ so that he would be strong enough to undergo a bypass in March or April of this year.

In June 2022, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris sanctioned a cold-case examination of the 1993 murder, a move welcomed by Mr Bailey.

Speaking to The Irish Times at the time, he said: “Twelve months ago, I wrote to Commissioner Drew Harris as ‘a clean pair of hands’ asking him to review the case. I today heard via the media that a review has been sanctioned and I clearly welcome that.

“There have been a number of reviews of this case previously and I am on record as saying I will co-operate with any meaningful and objective review of the case. My prayer has always been for the truth to come out and I hope this review will be part of answering that prayer.”

Hearing news of Mr Bailey’s death, Ms Toscan du Plantier’s uncle, Jean Pierre Gazeau, said: “We have never had any doubt that Ian Bailey was the killer... Now, our fear is that we will never reach the full truth of what happened so I would urge the Irish Garda to continue with their investigation to be absolutely sure that Bailey was the culprit.”

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