Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Ian Bailey’s High Court case

Bailey’s ruinously expensive failed civil case is just the latest fallout from the unsolved murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier nearly 20 years ago

A concerned looking Ian Bailey (58), leaving the High Court on Monday after he lost his case against An Garda Siochána and the State. Photograph: Courtpix

A concerned looking Ian Bailey (58), leaving the High Court on Monday after he lost his case against An Garda Siochána and the State. Photograph: Courtpix

 

What’s the background here? Ian Bailey (58), an English journalist, was arrested in February 1997 and January 1998 for questioning about the murder of French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39), whose badly beaten body was found outside her holiday home in Toormore near Schull in West Cork on the morning of December 23rd, 1996. Bailey was released without charge on both occasions. He has always protested his innocence and denied he ever made any admissions.

In 2007, his solicitor, Frank Buttimer, lodged a High Court claim on Bailey’s behalf for damages against the state for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and a series of other torts including that he was the victim of a garda conspiracy to frame him for the killing.

Why did Bailey not take legal action sooner? He did. Bailey sued eight newspapers in 2003 for wrongly linking him to the murder. He initially lost six of these actions at Cork Circuit Court but settled them on appeal. He also won against two that had wrongly reported he had been violent towards his ex-wife when he lived in the UK.

A key witness for the newspapers was Schull shopkeeper Marie Farrell. She initially contacted garda in January 1997, using the alias Fiona to say that she had seen a strange man at Kealfadda Bridge not far from Toscan du Plantier’s home on the night of the murder. She later identified this man as Ian Bailey.

So what happened then? Farrell gave evidence to the libel trial that the man she saw at Kealfadda Bridge was Bailey. In 2005, however, she contacted Buttimer to say that she had been coerced by gardaí into falsely identifying Bailey as the man, as gardaí had a hold over her because they knew that she was with a man who wasn’t her husband on the night in question.

What did that lead to? When Farrell retracted her statement implicating Bailey, Buttimer wrote to then minister for justice Michael McDowell, which lead to a review of the garda investigation. A file was prepared a file on the matter, but the DPP decided there should be no prosecution. Fachtna Murphy, at that time the Garda commissioner, directed that the Garda file be sent to the French authorities.

Why did he do that? Under French law, the French authorities can investigate crimes against French citizens committed outside of France. A French magistrate issued a European Arrest Warrant, which lead to the arrest of Bailey in 2010. The High Court ordered Bailey’s surrender to France, but he successfully appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in 2012.

And what has all this got to do with his recent High Court action? Just before the Supreme Court appeal, Bailey and his lawyers received a copy – on the instructions of the Attorney General – of a report on the case by a lawyer in the DPP’s office, Robert Sheehan, who was highly critical of the garda investigation. Bailey’s lawyers believed the report supported their claim of a Garda conspiracy.

So far so good for Bailey? Up to a point. The High Court ruled that the DPP’s report was inadmissible on the grounds that it was prejudicial to the State, and that a report accompanying the European Arrest Warrant was prejudicial against Bailey. Sheehan was confined to giving limited evidence, which proved a blow to Bailey’s case.

The State also successfully applied on day 60 of the 64-day trial to have much of Bailey’s case, including his claims for wrongful arrest, struck out as they had happened before the six-year period from when Bailey lodged his claim in 2007. Mr Justice Hedigan ruled that all that could go before the jury was a question of conspiracy.

And what did the jury think? The jury decided that three named gardaí, Jim Fitzgerald, Jim Slattery and Kevin Kelleher, did not conspire to coerce or induce Farrell into making a false statement implicating Bailey. They also concluded that Fitzgerald and another garda, Maurice Walsh, did not conspire to coerce or induce Farrell into making false complaints of harassment and intimidation against Bailey.

So have we heard the last of Ian Bailey? Bailey has been left with a legal bill running into millions, and he may appeal the decision. His partner, Jules Thomas, is proceeding with a separate action for damages for her wrongful arrest. The Garda Ombudsman is continuing with an investigation into a complaint by Bailey, and Mr Justice Hedigan has referred Farrell’s testimony to the DPP.

Meanwhile, the French investigation team wants to return to Ireland to interview witnesses, and the European Arrest Warrant remains extant in other countries, so Ian Bailey can’t leave Ireland without running the risk of extradition to France.

BARRY ROCHE