The arrest of journalist Ian Bailey was regarded as the "apex" of the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in late 1996, one of the arresting gardaí has told the High Court.
Retired Detective Garda Denis Harrington said no words were said by gardaí in his presence to Mr Bailey during the car journey to Bandon Garda station to the effect, 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 also saw no prodding or jabbing of Mr Bailey.
He said Mr Bailey could have been told gardaí knew he was “the killer” and that gardaí would have disagreed with Mr Bailey’s assertions he was innocent.
Mr Harrington said the leaders of the murder investigation considered there was enough evidence to warrant an arrest of Mr Bailey on February 10th, 1997. He also 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, he said. There were 54 suspects in total, the jury heard.
Mr Harrington is being cross-examined in the continuing action by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and State over the conduct of the 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.
The defendants deny all Mr Bailey’s claims, including of wrongful arrest and conspiracy.
Evidence on behalf of Mr Bailey concluded yesterday and Mr Harrington is the first State witness.
Mr Harrington, who was stationed in Mayfield, Cork in 1996, has told the court he was involved in the du Plantier murder investigation. As part of that, he told the jury he had various interactions with Mr Bailey from December 31st, 1996 until just after Mr Bailey’s first arrest on February 10th, 1997.
In court, Mr Harrington said he made a statement relating to the presence of briars at the scene where Ms Toscan du Plantier’s body was found.
His usual practice was to date statements, there was no date on this one but he did not consider there was anything “sinister” about that.
He had never heard of “chopping a statement”, he said. It would be “completely wrong” and “not honest” to predate a statement, take information out of it or interfere with it in any way.
If he took a statement from a witness, he would always read it over to a witness, he said. He would have concerns if a statement was taken and not read over.
He attended almost daily case conferences concerning the investigation, he believed about 20 gardaí would be present at those.
Asked again was there a suspect file, he said he believed there was not. He and Det Garda John Culligan were allocated to look into Mr Bailey and three or four other suspects, who were "local people".
He did not know "a lot" about the "French connection" but was aware gardaí went to France, he believed they were Inspectors O'Callaghan and Kelleher.
When he went to the scene on December 26th, 1996, the investigation was not in full flow at that point, he said.
He agreed not much was known about Ms Toscan du Plantier at that stage and he was surprised when he became aware she was well-known in Paris. The fact she was a French national made the investigation “different”.
He had nothing to do with looking into her background, he was sure that was done but was not sure exactly when. He was not sure if her husband found out about her death through the media.
When counsel suggested that did happen, he said he did not know. Efforts would always be made to notify the family of a murder victim, he said.
Mr Harrington also said, having thought over his evidence overnight, he was satisfied he was incorrect when he told the jury yesterday the body was there when he went to the scene on December 26th, 1996. He was satisfied he did not see the body there.
He believed his mistake arose because he had seen photos of the body at the scene.
The members in charge of the investigation – Det Supt Dermot Dwyer, Ins O'Callaghan, Insp Kelleher – would have decided on the arrest of Mr Bailey. They felt there was enough evidence to arrest Mr Bailey and the purpose of the arrest was "to see what Mr Bailey had to say".
There was no consideration given to inviting Mr Bailey to come to the station voluntarily, he said. That was not his decision to make, he added. A decision to arrest Mr Bailey's partner, Jules Thomas, must also have been made at that time.
He and Det Garda John Culligan had also arrested another person. While the stated purpose of that arrest was burglary of a gas canister the real purpose was in connection with the du Plantier investigation and he was satisfied to eliminate that person from the inquiry.
He, Det Garda John Culligan and Sgt Liam Hogan went to Mr Bailey's home, he said. He had mistakenly referred to Sgt Hogan as Sgt "Liam Ryan" yesterday, he added. It was normal procedure to handcuff a person when they were being arrested. He agreed not all prisoners were handcuffed.
He said Mr Bailey was “relaxed” in the Garda car during the journey to Bandon Garda station. He was sure the gardaí asked him relevant questions. He agreed Det Garda Culligan was not agreeing with Mr Bailey he was innocent. He himself was sitting in the front passenger seat and Det Garda Culligan was in the back with Mr Bailey.
He did not see any prodding of Mr Bailey, he said. There was also a “relaxed” atmosphere when Mr Bailey was being interviewed in the station.
He was not involved in checking out an Astra car seen in the Toormore area on the night of the murder, he told counsel. Mr Munro said that car, which was reported by a local person to have been driven by a stranger, was never traced.
In re-examination, he told Luán O Braonáin, when he completed a task in the investigation, any product would be returned to, and retained in, the incident room. It would be typed up and copies and put on the suspect file.
The case continues.