Bailey trial: Irish witness concerned about credibility of proceedings
Ex-journalist Helen Callanan criticises ‘fragility of process’ and lack of verbal testimony
Ian Bailey in 2017. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Former journalist Helen Callanan, who was summoned as a witness in Ian Bailey’s trial for the voluntary homicide of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, has severely criticised the manner in which Irish witnesses were asked to attend.
Ms Callanan, who is now a senior counsel, was an editor at the Sunday Tribune when Mr Bailey freelanced for that newspaper. She sent a letter, which was translated into French and read aloud in court on Tuesday.
It was the second day of Mr Bailey’s trial in absentia for the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier at her holiday home in Toormore on December 23rd, 1996. Ms Callanan noted that the summons was issued on April 29th and posted on May 13th. She received it on May 16th and was expected to appear in court on May 27th.
That gave her only six working days to try to organise her work and family life to attend the trial.
Ms Callanan was aware that Pierre-Louis Baudey Vignaud, the son of the victim, made an appeal in the Cork village of Goleen for Irish witnesses to testify in Paris.
She wanted the family to know that it was not the witnesses who betrayed the family. “The fragility of the process is to be found in Paris,” she said.
Ms Callanan said she made three statements to gardaí in 1997. She was subpoenaed by newspapers when Mr Bailey sued them for defamation in 2003, and by the State in the context of Mr Bailey’s suit against An Garda Síochána in 2014. She also gave a statement to the French investigation team at Terenure Garda station.
“French authorities waited until the last minute,” Ms Callanan said in the French translation of her letter. “The facts have been known for more than two decades.”
Lack of verbal testimony
In the absence of witnesses, Judge Frédérique Aline is reading sworn depositions aloud in court. Ms Callanan’s letter expressed concern that the lack of verbal testimony could undermine the credibility of the trial.
Prosecutor Jean-Pierre Bonthoux said the late summons were due to the necessity of translation, the large number of witnesses and the fact that many are no longer at the same addresses.
Judge Frédérique Aline said it would have been easier to organise the trial “if Mr Bailey had done us the honour of being present”.
The judge then read the testimony of Ms Callanan. She recounted in 1997, in 2003 and again in 2014 and 2015 that in the context of her work as an editor at the Sunday Tribune, she told Mr Bailey she had learned he was a suspect in the case. “Yes, I did it to resurrect my career,” he replied. Ms Callanan was disturbed by his statement and went to An Garda Síochána.
Mr Bailey later said the statement was an example of his “black humour”.
Separately, witness Billy Fuller travelled from his home in Schull in west Cork to Paris to testify.
Mr Fuller told the three-judge court, where Mr Bailey is not legally represented, that he recalled a conversation with Mr Bailey towards the end of January 1997. He said it happened when he called to Mr Bailey’s home at The Prairie, Liscaha, Schull.
Mr Bailey started showing him photos of the turkeys that he had killed at Christmas and began talking about the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier, whereupon Mr Fuller told him that a woman was dead and it was not a joke, but Mr Bailey persisted.
“He said, ‘You killed her. You saw her in the shop with her tight arse and you fancied her, so you went up there to see what you could get but she ran away screaming and you chased her to calm her down. She was scared so you stove in the back of her head. You realised you went too far so you finished her off.”
Mr Fuller said it was common knowledge around Schull at the time that Mr Bailey often spoke about himself in the second or third person and Mr Fuller replied by saying that it sounded very much like the sort of thing that Mr Bailey himself would do.
He said that Mr Bailey replied that it was funny that Mr Fuller should say that, as that was exactly how he had met his partner, Jules Thomas, after he admired “her tight arse, but she had let him in” when he approached in Schull some years before.
Earlier the jury heard evidence from another witness, Amanda Reid, who also travelled from west Cork to testify. She told how her then 14-year-old son, Malachi, came home from school on the night of February 4th, 1997, having got a lift home from Mr Bailey, who lived nearby.
Malachi said nothing to her that night but the following morning he was quite upset and explained that Mr Bailey, who had been drinking, had suddenly announced to him while driving him home the previous night that he had killed Ms Toscan du Plantier.
“Malachi said Mr Bailey out of the blue said to him: ‘I went up there and smashed her brains in with a rock,’ ” said Ms Reid, adding that Ms Toscan du Plantier’s killing was the only such crime in the area at the time and Malachi clearly understood Mr Bailey to mean that he had killed her.
“[Malachi] was very upset, and I said it was a very serious thing to say and we had to speak to the guards,” said Ms Reid, adding her son was so “terrified” of Mr Bailey that he had wanted to get out of the car but could not because he continued driving.
She said Malachi used to try and avoid Mr Bailey around Schull but he met him some time later in a bar in the village and Mr Bailey asked were the gardaí pressurising him into testifying at his forthcoming libel case but there was never any such pressure put by gardaí on Malachi, she said.
Mr Bailey has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing of Ms Toscan du Plantier and denied ever making any admissions in relation to her death.