Ex-garda denies no interest in backing up Ian Bailey innocence

John Paul Culligan said he had five reasons for arresting Bailey over Toscan du Plantier murder

A detective garda who arrested Ian Bailey on suspicion of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier has rejected a suggestion he did not have "a blind bit of interest" in anything that might corroborate Mr Bailey's innocence.

John Paul Culligan, now retired, said he had five reasons for arresting Mr Bailey, including that the journalist had told people he committed the murder.

"If I did not arrest Ian Bailey, I would have been failing Sophie Toscan du Plantier, I would have been failing myself, I would have been failing the people of west Cork," he said.

He denied a suggestion by Ronan Munro, for Mr Bailey, he was going to arrest Mr Bailey “one way or the other”, irrespective of what witnesses said. He was “a professional policeman” and denied he arrested Mr Bailey “with extreme prejudice”.

He agreed, before Mr Bailey’s arrest, that no statement was taken from Saffron Thomas relating to Mr Bailey’s claim she witnessed him cutting down a Christmas tree - which was his explanation for having scratches on his hands and arms.

That was “an oversight”, Mr Culligan said. He was suspicious of Mr Bailey’s explanation for the scratches, he said.

Mr Culligan testified in the civil action for damages by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and State, who deny his claims, including of wrongful arrest and conspiracy, over the conduct of the murder investigation.

Mr Culligan told Paul O’Higgins SC, for the State, he was part of the team investigating the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier, whose body was found near her home at Toormore, Schull, on December 23rd, 1996. Statements or memos made would be typed up and handed into the incident room, he said.

He spoke with Mr Bailey a number of times from December 31st, 1996, before going with two other gardaí to arrest Mr Bailey at his home at The Prairie, Schull,on February 10th, 1997.

Mr Culligan said when the Garda patrol car was leaving for Bandon Garda station, Mr Bailey's partner Jules Thomas put her hand in the car window and told him: "Remember, they have nothing on you, nothing on you, I love you and I'll swear that in court."

He previously took notes of Mr Bailey’s account of his movements around the time of the murder and took another note from Mr Bailey that morning which he read over to Mr Bailey, who indicated he was unhappy with a reference to a “long black coat that I am now wearing”, amended the note and signed it.

He told Mr Bailey he was arresting him for the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier on December 22/23rd 1996.

His reasons for arresting Mr Bailey were, one, Mr Bailey had had several opportunities to account for his movements and they were “not correct”; two, he had scratches on both arms; three, gardaí were told he had been seen at Kealfadda Bridge (near Schull) at 3am; four, he was very violent towards his partner Jules Thomas and; five, Mr Bailey had told people he committed the murder.

Mr Bailey had not just said he did it, he had also said how he did it, Mr Culligan said. Mr Bailey told a local youth, Malachy Reid, he went up there one morning with a rock and "beat her brains out", he said.

Mr Culligan said he cautioned Mr Bailey, who said words to the effect: “You can’t be serious, you can’t do this to me, I’m shocked.”

During the car journey to Bandon, Mr Bailey denied any involvement in the murder and said he was at the murder scene later on December 23rd, 1996 with other journalists, Mr Culligan said.

Mr Bailey said he got a phone call about 2.30am that day saying a French lady had been murdered and he went to Alfie Lyons’s house in the Toormore area because he had a “hunch” it was there.

Nothing untoward happened in his interactions with Mr Bailey, he said.

In cross-examination, Mr Culligan denied he jabbed Mr Bailey in the stomach during the car journey or told him he had committed the murder, and that everyone knew and that he should just say so.

He denied he told Mr Bailey to get his act together and he was a violent man, and denied it was against normal police practice to handcuff him.

Mr Bailey was not happy he was arrested, Mr Culligan agreed. The atmosphere in the car was “ok” and “relaxed”, he said.

Mr Culligan rejected a suggestion that a lot of things he did in the investigation did not make sense.

He said he had at the time believed evidence of Marie Farrell that she saw a man in a long black coat at Kealfadda Bridge in the early hours of December 23rd, 1996.

He believed this was true because she had approached gardaí - they had not gone to her. “She obviously saw something and I took that at face value.”

He never met Ms Farrell, he added.

He said it would be “totally unacceptable” to make a statement or memo of a conversation with a witness after they had gone, or to alter such documents.

He disagreed with evidence of another garda that the real reason another local man was questioned was to eliminate him from the murder inquiry.

Local people had alleged the man was taking items from their homes, including gas canisters. The man had denied this but had no explanation for certain items on his property, he said. The man was elderly, in poor circumstances and he felt sorry for him.

Earlier, retired Det Garda Denis Harrington said he was with Mr Culligan when Mr Bailey was arrested and the arrest was regarded as the “apex” of the murder investigation.

Mr Harringon said he heard no garda say to Mr Bailey, during the car journey to Bandon, words to the effect that if they could not pin the murder on him, he would be “found dead in a ditch with a bullet in the back of your head”.

He saw no jabbing of Mr Bailey. He said Mr Bailey could have been told gardaí knew he was “the killer”.

Mr Harrington added he had mistakenly referred to the patrol car driver as Sgt Liam Ryan when it should have been Sgt Liam Hogan (now deceased).

Mr Bailey was “relaxed” during the journey, and he was sure gardaí asked him relevant questions. He agreed it seemed likely the media was tipped off by a member of the Garda about the arrest.

Mr Bailey had been nominated as a “good suspect” by a local Garda in Schull and he and Mr Culligan were involved in investigating Mr Bailey and three or four local people.

While the stated purpose of questioning one man was burglary of a gas canister, the real purpose was in connection with the murder investigation, and he was satisfied to eliminate that man from the inquiry.

When he went to the murder scene on December 26th, 1996, the investigation was not in full flow but he had wrongly said the body was still there.

When he completed tasks in the investigation, any product would be returned to, and retained in, the incident room.

The case continues.