Ian Bailey case: Ex-garda not told witness had ‘lied through teeth’

Noel Smith did not know calls taped in Sophie Toscan du Plantier inquiry

 Retired assistant commissioner Noel Smith pictured leaving the Four Courts  after giving evidence in the High Court action for damages by Ian Bailey. Photograph: Courts Collins

Retired assistant commissioner Noel Smith pictured leaving the Four Courts after giving evidence in the High Court action for damages by Ian Bailey. Photograph: Courts Collins

 

A senior Garda overseeing the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier has told the High Court he was not made aware by other gardaí a “very important” witness had “lied through her teeth”.

Had he known that, it may have given him “cause to pause” about certain statements of Marie Farrell, Noel Smith agreed.

Mr Smith, a chief superintendent in 1997, said he was not told Ms Farrell had lied to gardaí about the identity of her male companion. She had said she was with the companion in a car on the night of December 22nd/23rd 1996 when she alleged she saw another man near Schull just hours before Ms du Plantier’s body was discovered.

He agreed the identity of the companion was “very important”. He also agreed, had he known Ms Farrell had lied about it, it would have given him “cause to pause” concerning other statements by her relating to Ian Bailey and her sightings of a man in and near Schull between December 21st and 23rd 1996.

He agreed Ms Farrell was a very important witness but did not consider there was anything “sinister” in his not being told by other gardaí she lied about her companion’s identity.

In general, he was kept informed of matters, but this might have been an “oversight” and there was no “pattern” of not telling him important things. He was “mildly surprised” he had not been told about the lie by Det Garda Jim Fitzgerald, his “conduit” to the investigation team.

Also today, Sgt Des Prendergast denied gardaí took clothing without authorisation from Mr Bailey during his detention six weeks after the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier, solely to put “psychological pressure” on him.

Sgt Prendergast denied a suggestion by Tom Creed SC, for Mr Bailey, he was “hand-picked” to be member in charge of Bandon Garda station during both arrests of Mr Bailey in February 1997 and January 1998 because he would “not demur from anything”, including alleged unauthorised taking by another garda of clothing from Mr Bailey for forensic testing.

He denied there could be no forensic reason for taking from Mr Bailey clothes he was wearing in detention on February 10th 1997 when Ms du Plantier’s body was found six weeks earlier. There were briars at the murder scene and some clothing could have got caught in them and the intention was to see if this clothing was damaged, he said.

When counsel asked was this a “random selection” of clothing in the hope gardaí might “get lucky” six weeks later, the witness denied that. He could not recall what powers the clothing was seized under.

Earlier, Sgt Prendergast said he was told, among the reasons for the second arrest of Mr Bailey in January 1998, was that he had told a man he had killed Ms du Plantier. He considered there were reasonable grounds to detain Mr Bailey on both occasions of his arrest.

Both witnesses gave evidence yesterday 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, whose body was found at Toormore, Schull, on December 23rd 1996. The defendants deny all Mr Bailey’s claims, including of wrongful arrest and conspiracy.

Mr Smith, now a retired Assistant Commissioner, said he had not known in 1997 about the recording of phone calls to and from Bandon Garda Station, including calls concerning the murder investigation.

Had he been asked, he would not personally have approved of the recording of people’s private calls without their knowledge. His attitude also depended on the use to be made of the recorded material.

He did not regard the recording as done “behind his back” but would have liked to know it was happening. He only learned on retirement about the Bandon recordings and that calls to and from other stations were routinely recorded.

He did not know anything about a Garda mobile phone being given to a witness and, if that was done, would not have approved of it. He also could not, and would not, approve of drugs being given to a witness, Martin Graham, if that had happened. He was not made aware about cash and clothes given to Mr Graham, if that had happened, and had not approved that.

Each chief supt has a “secret service” fund from which small amounts of cash may be given to persons in certain circumstances but the Supt had to approve that. Evidence from gardai on these matters had yet to be heard and there should be “no rush to judgment”.

Asked had he concerns about the evidence of Marie Farrell, he said: “One would have to be concerned about Marie Farrell’s evidence, full stop”, and said he meant her evidence in this court case.

Asked whether he had concerns in 1997 about her evidence of sightings of a man at Schull, he said perception of height might depend on the angle from which a person was being viewed.

He denied giving “a stock answer” to the jury he had no active part in the investigation when he previously described himself as having chaired “most” of the case conferences and having an “active” role. He would say “many”, not “most” conferences, and believed he had opened case conferences rather than chaired them.

He liked to believe he had an impact, had told gardaí this was a “heinous crime” against a French national which put a “stain” on Ireland’s reputaton but was not involved in the daily “nitty-gritty”, his role was overseeing and to report to Garda HQ on progress.

He said he never named Mr Bailey in interviews with journalists relating to Mr Bailey’s arrest and it was not Garda practice to provide names of arrested persons. It would be “outrageous” to tell reporters of Mr Bailey’s arrest prior to that but he could not rule out gardaí may have tipped off the media. The media had many other contacts, he added.

Mr Bailey gave interviews himself which displayed a “rather lax” attitude where he was described as a self-confessed chief suspect, he said.

The case continues.