Journalist Ian Bailey was among 54 people initially categorised as suspects or persons of interest for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork, the High Court has heard.
Mr Bailey remains a person of interest, said Chief Superintendent Thomas Hayes, who has been in charge of the investigation since 2010.
There were reasonable grounds to suspect Mr Bailey and the suspicion was amplified from his saying during Garda interviews he was missing from his house for a number of hours on December 22nd-23rd 1996, the night of the murder, Chief Supt Hayes said. While Mr Bailey had given an explanation for that, this was among the grounds for suspicion, he added.
Other reasonable grounds to suspect Mr Bailey included his history of violence towards his partner Jules Thomas and inaccuracies in the accounts given by him of his movements, he said.
The facts have not changed other than evidence give to the court from Marie Farrell, a shopkeeper in Schull, he said.
Chief Supt Hayes said the identification of 54 persons was intended to encompass all possible lines of inquiry and did not reflect a belief that every nominated person of interest or suspect was relevant to the inquiry.
For example, the list included a German national who had taken their own life and inquiries were carried out concening information they had left a suicide note, he said.
Any information gardaí received about the murder would be followed up and the inquiry was continuing, he said. There had also been a review of the forensic strategy pursued in the original investigation.
He agreed with Luán Ó Braonáin SC, for the State, that Mr Bailey was described as a suspect at the time for a number of reasons, including his history of violence towards Ms Thomas. Other reasons included his alleged statements of admission and information about scratches in the context where there were briars at the murder scene and inaccuracies in the information provided by Mr Bailey concerning hs movements on December 21st and 22nd 1996.
He agreed that other information included a sighting by Marie Farrell of Mr Bailey on the night of December 22nd-23rd 1996, which she has since disputed.
Chief Supt Hayes is being cross-examined at the resumed hearing of the action by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and State arising from the conduct of the Garda investigation into the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier. Her body was found near her holiday home at Toormore, Schull, on the morning of December 23rd, 1996.
Mr Bailey, who denies any involvement in the murder, has claimed damages, including aggravated damages, for wrongful arrest and conspiracy. The defendants deny all his claims.
The hearing opened in early November and ran for 24 days before being adjourned on December 19th. It resumed today before Mr Justice John Hedigan and a jury and is expected to last several more weeks.
Chief Supt Hayes told Tom Creed SC, for Mr Bailey, he had checked records of warrants related to road traffic offences alleged against Chris Farrell, husband of Marie Farrell. Of five such warrants sent for reissuing, none were reissued, he said.
In response to Mr O Braonáin, he agreed he became chief superintendent at Bandon in 2010 and was in charge of the murder investigation since. A team of gardai was involved including the superintendents in charge of all four Garda districts in west Cork.
He agreed the investigation remains open, with any new leads being followed up. None of the current investigation team were part of the original investigation team, he added.
There was no “formal Garda surveillance” of Mr Bailey since he took over the murder investigation in 2010 and he was also satisfied there was no formal surveillance of Mr Bailey prior to that, he said. Any intelligence recorded about Mr Bailey was merely “passive recording of intelligence”.
By formal surveillance, he meant specific action to target a criminal or gang, he added.
The information recorded about Mr Bailey included references related to extradition proceedings, he said. Some of the recordings were very low.
In 2000, there were five recordings of intelligence related to Mr Bailey. That level of recording would be unacceptable in relation to any person who was an active criminal, he said.
All gardaí are actively encouraged to collate material about active criminals and such recordings are a “two-edged sword” in that they can work to the benefit of individuals or can also assist gardaí in their inquiries.
Supt Hayes also said recordings of conversations made to and from Bandon Garda station were found on tapes by the garda responsible for technical matters in the station. He handed them in without any idea of what was on them.
Some 45,000 calls were recorded on the tapes received and each of those was examined for relevance to discovery and any relevant calls were discovered. The tapes were in very poor condition and steps were taken to conserve them, he added.
The process of discovery took several months and over 1,200 documents were discovered, he said. He had written to every relevant Garda station and every relevant member of the force seeking material that was relevant.
Asked about procedures when a murder happens, he said a major focus is preserving the scene for examination. If such a murder happened now, the Garda Pulse system might provide evidence of assistance, including intelligence on individuals and motor vehicles, but Pulse was not in place in 1996.Local knowledge was of most assistance in such investigations, he said.
The case continues.