I have prayed for Sophie Toscan du Plantier, says Ian Bailey

Bailey says anniversary of French woman’s death casts a cloud over him each Christmas

Sophie Toscan du Plantier who was killed in December 1996: “I know in France they somehow believe I am the killer, but I am not the killer,” says Ian Bailey. Photograph: Patrick Zimmermann/AFP/Getty Images

Sophie Toscan du Plantier who was killed in December 1996: “I know in France they somehow believe I am the killer, but I am not the killer,” says Ian Bailey. Photograph: Patrick Zimmermann/AFP/Getty Images

 

“I have prayed for Sophie and for her family and I have prayed for us and that the truth will come out – I use the Serenity Prayer as a sort of daily coping mechanism – there would not be a day that goes past when it would not feature as part of my meditation.”

Ian Bailey is in reflective mood as he proceeds to recite the first lines of the prayer by American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s the week before Christmas, and Bailey is preparing for a family get together at the Prairie, the refurbished old farmhouse that he shares with his partner of a quarter century, Welsh artist Jules Thomas, at Liscaha outside Schull on the rugged Mizen Peninsula in West Cork,

In between the festive preparations, he has been fielding phone calls and interviews from journalists, both Irish and French, asking him how he will mark the 20th anniversary of the murder of French mother-of-one Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39) less than 2km away – on December 23rd, 1996.

Bailey was arrested by gardaí on February 10th, 1997, and again on January 28th, 1998, for questioning about the murder, but he was released without charge each time. He has denied any involvement in her death or that he ever made any admissions that he killed her.

‘A living nightmare’

But, despite Bailey’s denials, his name has become inextricably linked with that of the film producer whose face continues to smile out from newspaper photographs some 20 years on from her horrific death on the track leading to the remote Toormore home she saw as a sanctuary.

Every Christmas there is no escaping from the murder of Toscan du Plantier. “It casts a cloud over Christmas but at the same time life goes on – for instance this Christmas, we are having a family Christmas with grandchildren and babies and all the trimmings,” Bailey says.

During Bailey’s libel trial against seven newspaper publishers in 2003, Jules Thomas’s eldest daughter, Saffron, spoke of the impact the killing and the arrest of both Bailey and her mother had on their lives in the closely knit community where they lived.

“They cried every day for about two years . . . people didn’t know whether to talk to them or not. They obviously didn’t feel very sociable.They had a lot less contact with people, they went out less. I don’t think they had a single gathering or anything, past a small dinner party, ever since.”

Looking back on the time, Bailey identifies those first three years after the murder and his arrests as the worst – though there have been other grim days in a saga that has had as many twists and turns as the winding boreen that leads to his door at the Prairie.

“It has been like a cloud over our lives for the past 20 years. It’s been an ordeal, a living nightmare,” he says. “I think the worst part was the first few years, from the time of the first arrest in 1997 through to the end of the Millennium; they were very dark and very difficult.

“I said in evidence in the box during my civil action against the State in 2014 that at one point I did feel suicidal, but somehow I managed and we managed to carry on, and I managed to dig myself out, but it has been difficult, very difficult.”

Legal jousts

Despite losing that High Court action and losing his earlier libel action against five of the seven newspaper publishers (winning minor damages against the Irish Sun and Irish Mirror), Bailey doesn’t appear to regret taking on the might of either the media or the State.

“We took the libel actions which were not entirely successful and that was a very difficult and dark period, but I’ve no regrets – I lost at first instance in the Circuit Court in that I only won two of the seven actions, but I immediately instructed my solicitor, the late Con Murphy, to appeal that decision.

“It was going to be a two-weeks case in the High Court, but it was settled after two days – now the thing is the settlement wasn’t a victory for me but it wasn’t a defeat either – I had €250,000 costs awarded against me in the Circuit Court, but part of the settlement was that that was taken away.

“My legal team also got some costs for their effort as part of the settlement and what it did was that it cleared the way for me to go to UCC and, at the same time, I had an undertaking from my legal team of Frank Buttimer, Tom Creed and Jim Duggan that they would take the case on further.

“And then there was the 64 days civil case against the State in 2014 and 2015 and, although I clearly didn’t win, I didn’t feel like a loser – if that makes sense – the judge ruled certain documents were inadmissible, but we are appealing that and the appeal is set for next March.”

In between his legal jousts with the media and the State, Bailey found himself locked in an even more precarious legal battle with the French authorities who, on February 19th, 2010, issued a European Arrest Warrant for his extradition to France in relation to the murder.

That began a two-year legal battle and, although Bailey lost in the High Court when, on March 18th, 2011, Mr Justice Michael Peart made an order for his extradition to France, he appealed the decision to the Supreme Court and on March 1st, 2012, it ruled in his favour and overturned the High Court order.

“The one thing I knew if that extradition went against me at first instance before Mr Justice Peart I would be appealing to the Supreme Court and I told Jules this. I said, ‘don’t worry, don’t worry if judgment goes against me, because, take it from me, I will be appealing’.

Unable to visit dying mother

“I knew as well, by the way, that if it had gone my way in the High Court and Mr Justice Peart had thrown out the warrant, which he should have done, the State would have almost certainly appealed that decision to the Supreme Court and we were all destined to get to the Supreme Court,” says Bailey.

“We were always confident but we became even more confident in November 2011 when, out of the blue, Frank Buttimer received communications from the Department of Justice relating to the Eamon Barnes email and subsequently the DPP’s 2001 critique of the Garda case against me.

“That critique by Robert Sheehan analysed the Garda case against me and rejected it on all levels, so we were confident, but when the Supreme Court ruled in my favour it was a massive relief because, if you think about it, I had been on bail for two years as I was studying for my masters at UCC.”

But although the Supreme Court ruled against Bailey’s extradition to France from Ireland, the French EAW remained extant and legally enforceable in other jurisdictions, including in his native UK, which meant that Bailey was unable to visit his dying mother, Brenda, in May 2013.

“Although the European Arrest Warrant had been defeated here in Ireland it was still live elsewhere, so it meant I wasn’t able to travel to see Brenda before she passed and I wasn’t able to get to the funeral and that, for me, was possibly . . . one of the worst bits.”

Surveying events of the last 20 years, Bailey – who turns 60 in January – remains positive about the future, but while his focus is very much on his legal battles ahead, including his High Court appeal in March, he is anxious to stress he does feel for the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

“It has been a cloud over our lives, but I am very sympathetic to the French family – I know in France they somehow believe I am the killer, but I am not the killer and I wrote to the French ambassador in 2005 saying I was happy to help in any way that I could, but I never heard back from them.”