Ian Bailey's libel action fails against six out of eight newspapers

The judgment: Mr Ian Bailey is a violent man and one who sought the limelight and enjoyed notoriety, according to Judge Patrick…

The judgment: Mr Ian Bailey is a violent man and one who sought the limelight and enjoyed notoriety, according to Judge Patrick Moran. The judge was giving his judgment yesterday in Cork Circuit Court in favour of six of the eight newspapers sued by Mr Bailey for defamation.

Judge Moran found that the articles, which had said that Mr Bailey was the chief suspect for the murder of Ms Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December 1996, were justified.

He found in favour of Mr Bailey in relation to one allegation contained in articles published by two newspapers who claimed he had been violent towards his former wife. Judge Moran found that no evidence was brought to support this contention in articles in the Sun and the Irish Mirror, and he awarded Mr Bailey damages of €4,000 against each of them.

He also said that where there were inconsistencies between Mr Bailey's version of events and that of other witnesses, "on the balance of probabilities", he accepted the version put forward by other witnesses.

Judge Moran gave his judgment four weeks after the libel trial, which was heard over two weeks in December. At the outset, he thanked the defence for providing him with the overnight transcripts of the trial. These meant, he said, that he did not have to take copious notes and could observe the demeanour of witnesses.

He recalled that Ms Toscan du Plantier was murdered on December 22nd, 1996 and her body was found on the 23rd. There was an intensive Garda investigation and media coverage. "The press descended on west Cork to an enormous degree. Ms du Plantier was from a well-known French family, and the murder took place in a remote area, a very beautiful area," he said.

"The plaintiff is a journalist, and once the news broke he became involved in reporting on the story of the murder. He wrote numerous reports, the first on December 28th and the last on February 10th. He wrote for the Star, Paris Match and the Sunday Tribune.

"One can only presume west Cork was full of rumour, reports and counter-reports," the judge continued. "I'm sure the finger was pointing in various ways." He recalled that the plaintiff was arrested on the morning of February 10th, 1997 and brought to Bandon Garda station, where a number of journalists were assembled.

"When the gardaí make an arrest, they do it for very good reason, because they have a strong suspicion," he said. He added that the plaintiff complained about the arrest and his treatment by the Garda, but said this was not a matter for this court, but for other authorities, like the Garda Complaints Board.

Following his arrest, Mr Bailey was photographed and named. "There was further coverage, naturally. The gardaí had arrested a suspicious person." Judge Moran stressed that this was not a murder case. "There is a difference in the burden of proof in a criminal and a civil case. I am anxious that this case does not take on the mantle of a murder trial. Any findings of fact I make is on the balance of probabilities and nothing else."

The judge then listed the dates of the articles complained of, which were published in the Irish Mirror, the Sunday Independent and the Independent on Sunday, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Star (two articles), the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. He said he did not propose going through all the articles.

The defence had put forward five defences, he said. These were justification, partial justification, consent, qualified privilege, and contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff.

Referring to the law on defamation, he said: "If one is defamed one must deal with the ordinary and natural meaning of the words, and take into account the context.

"The allegation of libel means that a person's standing has been reduced in the eyes of an ordinary person. The evidence in this case consists mainly of that of the plaintiff.

"Mr Bailey was in the witness box for three and a half days. He was a very cool witness. He never got annoyed with Mr Gallagher. The only time he got uncomfortable was when he was giving a version of what happened to him within the walls of this court.

"He told us about his relationship with Ms Thomas. He told us about how he was treated by the gardaí, and being hounded by the media. Mr Gallagher said he was a violent man.

"He allowed himself to be interviewed by the media. He was interviewed by the Pat Kenny programme, first by researchers, then he spoke to Pat Kenny. This to me is quite unusual for someone who has been arrested on suspicion of a charge of murder.

"Normally a person would withdraw into the background. One can only draw from this that Mr Bailey likes the limelight, that he enjoys attention and notoriety.

"Ms Thomas was an equally cool witness. Unpleasant things were put to her relating to violence. She tended to put this under the carpet, say it was due to drink, it was nothing at all."

He said that the purpose of witnesses called by the defence, who were from the Toolmore and Schull area, was to show inconsistencies and flaws in the version Mr Bailey and Ms Jules Thomas gave of events.

"The thrust of the plaintiff's case is that he was branded as a man violent towards women and branded as the murderer of Sophie du Plantier.

"The question of violence towards women is a question of fact. What came across as a result of questions from Mr Gallagher is that Ms Thomas had suffered three nasty assaults. Mr Bailey appeared in the District Court on one of those and received a suspended sentence. Mr Bailey said when he was violent it takes place domestically and is a domestic problem.

"I deal with a lot of family law in this court. One rarely comes across instances of beatings. In this case we have three. Violence once would be unusual. Violence twice would be very unusual. Three times is exceptional. The District Court gave a six-months suspended sentence, because his partner said she forgave him. Otherwise, the district justice would have had no hesitation in imposing a custodial sentence.

"I certainly would have no hesitation in describing Mr Bailey as a violent man. The defendants were perfectly justified."

Judge Moran then turned to the question of inconsistencies between what Mr Bailey had said and the evidence of other witnesses. He referred first to the plaintiff's denial that he knew the late Ms Sophie du Plantier, saying he had only seen her from the window of the house of a local man, Mr Alfie Lyons, for whom he was working. Judge Moran said: "Mr Lyons gave evidence that he was 80 to 90 per cent sure he had introduced Ms du Plantier to Mr Bailey. On the balance of probabilities, I accept his evidence."

However, he said that otherwise he accepted Mr Bailey's evidence that he did not know her to visit, or to go out with for a drink.

He turned then to the evidence of a woman who said she saw the plaintiff on a bridge near the murder scene in the early hours of the morning following the murder. At first she did not know him but later, when she saw Mr Bailey in Schull, she recognised him as the man on the bridge.

"She said she came here reluctantly. On the balance of probabilities, I accept what Mrs Farrell told me, that the man she saw at the bridge was, in her view, Ian Bailey." He added that he did not know to what extent such evidence of identification would stand in a criminal trial.

He recalled that two witnesses, Mr Kennedy and Mr Jackson, had given evidence that they saw fires on the Bailey/Thomas property on St Stephen's Day, and he accepted their evidence. However, it was not clear what was burning. This could have been branches or some kind of timber, as one of them had heard a crackling sound, he said.

He then turned to the evidence of Mr and Mrs Shelley, the couple who had been in the Bailey/Thomas house on the New Year's Eve of 1997/1998. "They told me Mr Bailey said at the end of the night, 'I did it, I did it.' Mr Bailey's evidence was that, 'Theysay that I did it.' I accept what Mr and Mrs Shelley told me." Mr Bailey could have been looking for notoriety or attention-seeking, he added.

He said he also accepted the evidence of Malachi Reid, who was a 14-year-old boy when Mr Bailey told him he had killed Ms du Plantier. "It was a form of bravado, trying to impress a 14-year-old boy."

There were a lot of other inconsistencies around the time Ms Thomas's car was seen on the road on the day of the discovery of the body, he said. However, he did not rule on them.

"That is the evidence. The plaintiffs say that these articles portray Mr Bailey as the murderer of Ms du Plantier. I read these articles several times. I put myself in the position of an ordinary reader. These do not convey to me that he is a murderer. They do say he was a suspect, and arrested on suspicion. The articles constantly go on to quote what he said: 'I didn't do it.' This is given equal prominence.

"I take the view that the plea of justification is established very strongly, except for two matters: the washing of the Wellington boots and the burning of clothing, and that he was violent towards his ex-wife. There is no evidence of these.

"Insofar as the first two are concerned, the defence of partial justification is also there. I don't think that the reference to the Wellington boots or the clothing injures his reputation having regard to the truth of the other charges.

"There only remains the claim that he was violent towards his ex-wife. I found he was a violent man, but there is no evidence he was violent towards his ex-wife. He has been defamed in relation to that, and he is entitled to damages of €8,000."

He said that the article referred to was published in the Irish Mirror on February 14th, 1997. Mr James Duggan BL, counsel for Mr Bailey, pointed out that the Sun also contained a claim that Mr Bailey had admitted using violence against his ex-wife before their divorce. Judge Moran said that the damages would stay at €8,000, €4,000 against each publication. A decision on costs was adjourned until February 12th next.