Ian Bailey regarded as suspect within days of murder, jury told

Retired Garda did not recall suspecting anyone else in Sophie Toscan du Plantier case

A Garda has told the High Court that, within days of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, he regarded Ian Bailey as a suspect.

He suspected Mr Bailey from about December 27th 1996 — four days after the body was found — and did not recall suspecting anyone else, Kevin Kelleher said.

Mr Kelleher, now retired, is being cross-examined in the continuing action by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and State over the conduct of the Garda investigation into the murder of Ms du Plantier whose body was found near Toormore, Schull, on the morning of December 23rd 1996.

Mr Bailey has always denied any involvement in the murder.

The defendants deny all of Mr Bailey’s claims, including wrongful arrest and conspiracy.

On Thursday, Mr Kelleher told Paul O'Higgins SC, for the State, he took a statement from Marie Farrell on February 14th, 1997 at Ballydehob Garda station. Ms Farrell signed that and initialled changes in it, he said.

Some days earlier, he made inquiries following a complaint by an elderly lady about a disturbance outside her house near the Prairie, Schull, on the evening of February 3rd 1997. He learned a 14-year-old boy Malachi Reid, had taken a lift from Mr Bailey that same evening.

He said he spoke to Malachi at his school in the presence of the principal and the boy told him he had received a lift from Mr Bailey who had drink taken.

Mr Kelleher said he later took a statement from the boy in the presence of his mother. The boy had said Mr Bailey had told him he had gone up there that night and “bashed her f***ing brains in”, referring to Sophie Toscan du Plantier, he said.

On another occasion, he had arrested Mr Bailey at Cork airport in connection with an assault on his partner, Jules Thomas. There were no media present and he had received information Mr Bailey would be at Cork airport, he said.

Mr Kelleher said he also attended court for Mr Bailey’s libel actions against various newspapers in 2003. He said Marie Farrell spoke to his wife by phone on the morning the case was due to open and when he rang Ms Farrell back, she had said she was not going to court. He was surprised to see her in court later, he said.

Under cross-examination, Mr Kelleher told Tom Creed SC, for Mr Bailey, he was stationed in Schull from 1982 and would have known of Mr Bailey from the time he arrived in the area. There were 41 non-Irish nationals living in the area and he would have known of them, he agreed.

He was involved in the du Plantier murder investigation and took questionnaires from Marie Farrell in late December 1996. He only learned from this court case Ms Farrell had phoned gardai on Christmas Day 1996 and described a man she had seen as 5’10” and wearing a long black coat, he said.

Asked about a one page questionnaire, he agreed Ms Farrell had told him she saw a man on the afternoon of December 21st 1996 hanging around the street outside her shop in Schull. She described the man as in his late 30s, 5’10”, very short hair and wearing a black beret. She also said she saw him again at 7.20am on December 22nd walking towards Air Hill near Schull. He agreed that description was similar to a description she gave to other gardaí.

On December 27th 1996, he said he and Det Garda Bart O’Leary were in a newsagents shop in Schull when Mr Bailey came in. Garda O’Leary asked him who Mr Bailey was and referred to scratches on his hands, Mr Kelleher said.

He said he then looked over himself and noticed scratches on the back of Mr Bailey’s left hand as he reached for a newspaper.

He agreed he made a statement on February 19th, 1997 in which he described the scratches as if you would “scrape” the back of the hand with the other four fingers. He said he had not intended when saying that to convey a message as to how the scratches got there.

He agreed the statement also said the scratches were “light” and extending along the left wrist.

He disagreed a sketch he had made of a hand with scratches bore “no resemblance” to the description of the scratches he had given in court. He believed the sketch supported his description.

He agreed he had not described the sketches as like briar scratches in his statement but disagreed with a suggestion, as a country Garda, he would be “well familiar” with briar scratches.

After December 27th, he would have agreed with the view of another Garda who had nominated Mr Bailey as a suspect, he said. He did not recall he had suspected anyone else.

The case continues.