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Ian Bailey could never resist having his name in a newspaper, ideally the headline

Now the only suspect is gone with whatever secrets he had. And he had some, as he hinted in one of the poems he left me

The last time Ian Bailey rang me he said he had a cracking story about a national personality who, he alleged, had indulged in a sexual orgy. Ring so-and-so, he instructed. Do the leg work. He had this superior way of issuing editorial diktats as though he were Citizen Kane himself.

What differentiated this call was that the story he was offering did not feature himself. I asked if the orgy participants were consenting adults. He said “yes” and I replied that there was no public interest reason for reporting it. He never rang me again.

That last conversation has been replaying in my mind since the death five days ago of the man suspected of murdering Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December 1996. How extraordinary that one of the most ubiquitous dramatis personae in Ireland for nearly three decades, should fall dying in a street with passersby trying to save his life.

Journalists have been criticised, online and in west Cork, for posthumously “hanging” Bailey, whose metaphorical fingerprints still smudge the Frenchwoman’s violent end at her holiday home on the beautiful Mizen peninsula. Knowing his journalistic ethics, I imagine he would be leading the posse if he could. He could never resist an opportunity to see his name in a newspaper; preferably in the headline rather than the byline. To me, his natural calling was not as a journalist but as a PR man spinning facts to suit his narrative.


My first encounter with Ian Kenneth Bailey arose from a call he made to the news desk of a paper where I previously worked. He had a story. The editor passed it to me. The story was that a petrol attendant had told gardaí a silent male passenger had been in Toscan du Plantier’s car when she stopped for refuelling the day she arrived from Paris. Bailey argued this indicated she had travelled with a man from France, giving credence to his theory that the killer was somebody from abroad, probably “a hired assassin”.

After that, he kept calling. Sometimes he would call several times a week, checking if I was working on whatever tip-off he had given me. One time, he called from his “woodshed” late at night, incoherent with drink. I knew he was calling other journalists too. Some of them were colleagues sitting just feet away from me in the newsroom.

One time he called to say he was coming to Dublin and we should meet. The rendezvous he chose was an outdoor table on a busy street where people walking past did a double-take on recognising Ireland’s most famous murder suspect. He was such a notice box.

When the organisers of the West Cork Literary Festival asked me to interview Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey, the makers of the West Cork podcast series about Toscan du Plantier’s murder, he pestered me for weeks beforehand demanding a free ticket and the right to speak from the stage. The night before the interview, he came to my hotel and left a package at reception. It was a book of his poems.

He was manipulative and domineering, but if either trait was an offence our jails would be bulging at the seams. Sometimes he echoed Donald Trump’s attitude to women’s appearances, like the time he laughably deemed Toscan du Plantier “plain” in published photographs of her. His presence unnerved me but that might have been because he was a suspected murderer. A reputation like that comes with a ready-made aura.

The question everybody wants answered is if Ian Bailey killed Sophie Toscan du Plantier with a rock and left her to die in her nightdress near her garden gate the night before Christmas Eve? Who can say now?

What I can say is that there is incriminating evidence, contrary to sweeping dismissals in some news organs, such as Village magazine’s pronouncement that there was “not a shred of evidence”, and the verdict of Hot Press that “gardaí had little or nothing in the way of evidence”. This is objectively untrue.

Bailey had no alibi. He changed the story he told gardaí that he had been in bed with Jules Thomas, his then partner, after gardaí discovered that he had left their bedroom during the night. He had scratches on his face and hands the morning after the murder, which he said he got from killing turkeys and cutting a Christmas tree.

He denied ever having met Toscan du Plantier but witnesses said on oath that he did. A house guest saw clothing soaking in the bathroom and neighbours saw him burning items on a bonfire on St Stephen’s Day. Bailey was among the first to reach the murder scene, contributing to its contamination. Not least, he had a history of violence against women. A lamentable fact, some say, but it did not make him a killer. Sadly, it might have brought him close the night Thomas was hospitalised and almost lost an eye after one of his beatings.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided against a prosecution because the case against Bailey relied on circumstantial evidence and was not considered watertight. In the 27 years since Toscan du Plantier’s brutal killing, Joe O’Reilly and Graham Dwyer have both been found guilty of murdering women based solely on circumstantial evidence. Last year, the Court of Appeal dismissed Dwyer’s appeal against evidential phone records, ruling that there was other “compelling” evidence against him.

A fair justice system would reserve as much as possible of the adjudication on a case like this to trial judges and juries, not the prosecutors.

With the current system, neither justice nor the public interest is necessarily served, as Toscan du Plantier’s family has learned.

Some say Bailey was not the brightest. Though he may not have been as brilliant as he presumed, he certainly did not lack intelligence. He knew that, in Ireland, the litmus test for not pursuing a murder prosecution is the prospect of failure and condemnation for wasting “taxpayers’ money”.

Now the only suspect is gone with whatever secrets he had. And he had some, as he hinted in one of those poems he left at the hotel reception desk. “Many are the chapters yet untold before the story ends,” he waxed presciently.