A former newspaper news editor has told the High Court she did not consider Ian Bailey was engaging in "black humour" when he had told her: "It was me, I did it, I killed her to resurrect my career."
Helen Callanan, news editor of the Sunday Tribune in 1996, said she took that as a confession and had reported it to gardaí. She did not take it as "black humour", she knew Mr Bailey had described it as a regrettable black joke but that was not how she saw it, she considered it very serious.
She said Sophie Toscan du Plantier had only been murdered weeks earlier and she considered what Mr Bailey said very upsetting and very unusual.
She took what he had said as a confession. If Mr Bailey was saying it out of exasperation, that was another matter, she said.
Asked by Jim Duggan BL, for Mr Bailey, had she not found what he said surprising, she agreed it was. Her level of shock was that a person who had been reporting the story of the murder for her newspaper was now a suspect and was also saying to her he did it, she said.
She was very concerned when she discovered in February 1997 Mr Bailey had submitted stories about the December 1996 murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier to the Sunday Tribune without telling her he was a suspect for the murder.
She had excised parts of his stories which referred to Ms du Plantier having lovers and, during a conversation with Mr Bailey, he had said: “It was me”, she said.
She thought at first he meant he was an Irish lover of Ms du Plantier. He had said: “It was me, I did it, I killed her, I did it to resurrect my career.”
Ms Callanan said she was “flabbergasted”, did not know what to make of what he said and reported it to the gardaí.
She has concluded her evidence in the continuing action by Mr Bailey against the Garda Commissioner and the 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 his claims, including of wrongful arrest and conspiracy.
Earlier, Ms Callanan said she was asked about November/December 1996 by another journalist to give “a chance” to a reporter, ‘Eoin’ Bailey.
She had never personally met Mr Bailey but he provided one or two stories to the paper. He was not on contract and not a regular freelancer and, had the murder not occurred, she might not have used him again, she said.
She said Mr Bailey had had a deadline of December 23rd 1996 for a story but, because the murder occurred before that, she asked him whether he had any information about the murder.
Mr Bailey told her he had spoken to Sophie Toscan du Plantier, he was establishing he had a connection to the story and maybe something of benefit, she said. She did not regard him as having an exclusive relationship with the Sunday Tribune and he had provided stories to other papers about the murder.
All the Irish material concerning the murder published in the Sunday Tribune came from Mr Bailey, she said. A number of stories had been run by the time she challenged him about information she had received about him.
“This was probably the single biggest fiasco I had ever encountered, that the reporter I had on a story was in fact the suspect,” she said. It was “inappropriate in so many ways I had to take it up with him”.
She believed the last story he wrote about the murder was on February 2nd 1997. She believed she spoke to him around the start of February. She considered this “very serious” and told him she had been told he was “the suspect in the case”.
Mr Bailey’s response was “incredible”, he was “cool and calm” and asked her who said that and who had told her, she said. He seemed “unable to see the mess he was in and that he had effectively duped me”.
Mr Bailey appears to believe he did not get more work from her because he was a suspect but the problem for her was he had deceived her and potentially damaged the Sunday Tribune brand, she said.
The idea did not occur to him to extricate himself, the “moral compass was broken”, he had never apologised, did not seem to see the issue and never addressed it, she said.
He contacted her once afterwards and asked her to meet him when he was in Dublin but she declined, she said.
Under cross-examination, she told Jim Duggan BL, for Mr Bailey, she considered it was not relevant who had told her Mr Bailey was a suspect. That was not the issue for her, the issue was why he was writing about the murder when he was a suspect.
She believed it was surprising that Mr Bailey’s response was who had told her he was a suspect “as opposed to what I had been told”. He had not denied to her he was a suspect.
She would not say who had told her but it was not the gardaí and, as a person from Bandon, she had complained to the gardaí about that. She could not disclose who had told her as she was told in her capacity as a news editor, she said.
When Mr Duggan insisted Ms Callanan name the source of her information, the jury were sent out for legal discussion. When they returned, Mr Justice Hedigan said it was necessary to demonstrate a pressing social need for that information before he could order Ms Callanan to disclose it and he did not consider that arose here.
She denied she disliked Mr Bailey. She said she had never met him and did not know him at all.
Mr Duggan said Mr Bailey was very cross someone had said he was a suspect and wanted to find out who had mentioned it, that the information was worth €20,000 in the context of a possible defamation action.
She said it would not be incorrect to report he was a suspect because he was a suspect and that was all she had put to him.
She said she was a niece of Senator Peter Callanan. She knew Marie Farrell had told the court he had helped Ms Farrell's family with housing issues but did not know anything about that prior to what Ms Farrell said in court, she added.
Earlier, Garda Detective Chief Superintendent Ted Murphy disputed evidence from an official in the DPP’s office that he, Mr Murphy, asked the official to direct that Mr Bailey be charged with the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
Mr Murphy, now retired, said he disagreed with the evidence of Robert Sheehan to the effect that Mr Murphy phoned Mr Sheehan on the night of February 10th 1997 with a view to getting the DPP to charge Mr Bailey with murder.
He said the full file on the murder was sent to the DPP in September 1997 and a preliminary file was sent prior to that. He presumed all the material was in the full file.
He could not say for certain how long it took to eliminate about 53 other suspects in the murder inquiry, he said.
Mr Murphy agreed Mr Bailey was arrested on February 10th 1997 and that he, Mr Murphy, contacted Mr Sheehan of the DPP’s office that night, before Mr Bailey was released. He said he did so to inform them of the evidence that had to be considered by the DPP.
When counsel suggested he rang Mr Sheehan asking him to get a direction to charge Mr Bailey with murder, he said that was “totally incorrect” and it was a matter for the DPP to consider the evidence presented. He disagreed with what Mr Sheehan had said.
He did not ask Mr Sheehan to direct anything, he presented the evidence for him to evaluate and gardaí would fully abide by his decision. It was for the DPP to decide whether to direct a charge or not.
He agreed, when he rang Mr Sheehan, the gardaí had no statement putting Mr Bailey at Kealfada Bridge near Schull on the night of December 22nd/23rd 1996.
He denied he had refused to consider any evidence that might corroborate Mr Bailey’s account of how he got scratches. Mr Bailey had said he got scratches from cutting down a Christmas tree and he had directed a garda climb a similar Christmas tree with short sleeves and see what kind of scratches resulted, he said.
He said the grounds for arrest of Jules Thomas arose from the Garda view she was an accessory after the fact. She was never suspected of having committed the murder, he said.
He agreed Mr Sheehan had made his decision against charging Mr Bailey based on what was in the file and that he regarded Ms Farrell as an unreliable witness. There was other evidence, he said.
He denied he was less than candid concerning information put before the District Court by him when seeking an arrest warrant to arrest Mr Bailey a second time.
He denied this was all “orchestrated” to ensure there was a maximum pressure on Mr Bailey to ensure he would admit to a crime that he had always denied. He denied the intention when calling Mr Sheehan on February 10th 1997 was to get Mr Bailey locked up and apply maximum pressure on Mr Bailey.
The case continues.