Court hears allegations that Gardaí said it was acceptable to frame somebody
Friend of Ian Bailey’s says she was ‘absolutely shocked at the persecution locally’
Ian Bailey and Claire Wilkinson arriving at the Four Courts. Photograph: Courts Collins
An friend of Ian Bailey said members of a garda inquiry appointed to look into allegations of corruption in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation told her that it was acceptable to frame somebody if they believed that the person were responsible.
English actor Claire Wilkinson told Mr Bailey’s High Court action that she was interviewed by members of the McAndrew Inquiry team in Cork in January 2006 and that they took a statement from her but that it failed to mention her reaction to their comments about framing a suspect.
Cross-examined by counsel for the state, Luán Ó Braonáin SC, Ms Wilkinson said she had only seen the statement taken by the two officers in 2006 in recent weeks when Mr Bailey posted it to her and it reflected what she said to them save for the exchange between them about framing a suspect.
“I said it was a very sad reflection on human beings to try and frame somebody when they hadn’t been proven guilty of anything to save your job or your family and their reply was ‘If you thought somebody had done something, didn’t you think it was alright to do that?’ and I said ‘No’.”
Mr Ó’Braonáin said he hadn’t an opportunity to discuss the matter with the two officers in question, Det Supt John McKeown and Det Sgt Pat Finlay, but he presumed that they would strongly deny such an allegation and he had a duty to question her about it.
He suggested that it was “so preposterous as to be incredible“ to say that two officers charged with investigating a complaint of garda corruption and the alleged framing of Mr Bailey by gardaí would tell a friend of Mr Bailey’s that they believed it was acceptable to frame a suspect.
Ms Wilkinson said that she expected it would be denied by the two officers in question but that was what she had said to them as she had been brought up to believe a person was innocent until they were proven guilty and that was their reply.
Ms Wilkinson had earlier told Mr Bailey’s counsel, Martin Giblin SC how she had moved to Union Hall in West Cork with her partner around 1994 and had gotten to know Mr Bailey when they both began working on a community film project under the patronage of Sir David Puttnam in Skibbereen,
They were both working on the film script for the project and she often found herself working on her own with Mr Bailey in the Studio house at the Prairie in Liscaha while sometimes he would come to her house in Union Hall to work on the script.
“At the time of the murder, I was in England and I came back to hear that this murder had happened. As soon as I came back, it was extremely uncomfortable for me because rumours abounded that I had a murderer living with me in Union Hall which was completely untrue.”
Ms Wilkinson told the jury that she received a phone call late one night from a man with an English accent who told her not to come into Union Hall village as she was no longer welcome there because of the company she was keeping.
She said that she had seen Mr Bailey with drink, including whiskey, on board and she considered him to be “pathetic” when he was drunk and she had never seen him violent or aggressive though she accepted in cross-examination that he had been violent to his partner, Jules Thomas.
She said she had met him in Skibbereen after he assaulted Ms Thomas – whom she described as “an extremely good artist and a very nice person” – and he was “absolutely devastated and telling me how awful it was and how terrible what it was that he had done to Jules.”
She said she was “absolutely shocked at the persecution locally that was allowed to continue” and she saw the huge toll of being wrongly arrested had taken on them. “I saw Jules completely isolated, worn out and I think it’s a terrible thing that drags on – they have lost 18 years of their lives.”
Ms Wilkinson told how she had been visited by two gardai around 11.30pm one night in the year after the murder and “their faces appeared up over the window sill like the Blues Brothers” and they said they wanted to speak to her about Mr Bailey as she had worked with him.
“What they tried to do was to make me feel afraid of Ian and they said that I should be afraid for my life – they asked me would I consider making a statement to support them and they would come back for my decision,” said Ms Wilkinson.
“They said ridiculous things ... that over 200 women made statements to say that they were afraid of Ian Bailey, that he would get aggressive if a woman refused to accept a drink in a bar, that he had been seen jumping up and down on a stick on the roadway in the moonlight.”
Ms Wilkinson said that what these two gardai, whom she identified as Det Garda Liam Leahy and Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald, said was “so exaggerated that it was like people in a desperate situation trying to get themselves out of it”.
She said that they later contacted her again and told her that they would not be taking any statement from her as they didn’t believe that she would be any use to them and they wanted to know if she had mentioned them to Mr Bailey.
“They told me that they decided I wasn’t of going to be any use to them ... they seemed to be in a bit of trouble – I remember the smaller man, Leahy, said that they were in a lot of trouble about it, about the case ... they just said they had made a bit of a mess and were in a lot of trouble.”
Asked by Mr O’Braonain how she could remember now that the two detectives were Det Garda Leahy and Det Garda Fitzgerald when she could not remember their names when she spoke to the McAndrew Inquiry team in 2006, Ms Wilkinson said Mr Bailey had since told her who they were.
Ms Wilkinson denied that she had “rehearsed what Mr Bailey had wanted her to say” when Mr O’Braonain put it to her that Det Garda Fitzgerald had no recollection of ever calling to see her to take a statement from her.
“I couldn’t remember their names, the short one and the tall one, and who it was that interviewed me and I learned that they were Fitzgerald and Leahy – I asked Ian who they were – the short and tall detectives and he told me they were Fitzgerald and Leahy,” she said.
The case continues.