By Bryan Wall.
In a development that shocked very few people Ian Bailey was found guilty of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in a French court in May. After a four-day trial and deliberating for five hours a panel of three judges sentenced Bailey to 25 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay a total of 1225,000 in compensation, 1110,000 of which is to go to Toscan du Plantier’s family. Bailey, who has always denied his involvement in the murder of the French woman, was tried in absentia. A peculiar aspect of French law allows the authorities there to prosecute people suspected of crimes against French citizens that were carried out abroad.
The French had therefore tried twice before to have him extradited to stand trial. In both cases the Irish courts ruled against his extradition, with the High Court ruling in 2017 that the demand for extradition was an “abuse of process”. Nonetheless, the French went ahead and held a trial with Bailey’s absence noted. But Bailey was not the only person absent from the trial. Irish witnesses received a letter asking them to appear at the trial only two weeks before it began. In some cases they were given as little as one week’s notice. As a result only three witnesses gave evidence, one of whom, Helan Callanan, had a statement read out on her behalf. Callanan, one-time editor of the Sunday Tribune, wrote in her statement that Bailey had confessed to her that he murdered Toscan du Plantier in order to “to resurrect my career”. At the time he was freelancing for the paper and wrote about the case for the paper.
Of the two other witnesses, Amanda Reed gave evidence on behalf of her son Malachi. As a 14-year-old he had received a lift home from Bailey on 4 February 1997, less thantwo months after Toscan du Plantier’s death. He claimed that Bailey said to him “I bashed her f**king brains in”. His mother.
related this to the French court. Back on the evening of 4 February 1997 Malachi arrived home, with no apparent concerns, having being dropped off by Bailey. The next day gardaí visited Malachi in school. There they questioned him about his journey with the journalist. And it was after he arrived home from school in an “agitated” state that he informed his mother what Bailey allegedly told him. Bill Fuller, the third witness, told the court that Bailey had confessed to him. Fuller stated that Bailey, speaking in the second person, said “It’s you who killed her”. Bailey denied this conversation ever took place.
But these evidential issues with the trial pale in comparison to the French prosecution’s dismissal of the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and its opinion of the murder.
The DPP file about the case was leaked a number of years ago and makes for astounding reading. It contains a litany of concerns with how the murder was investigated. These embrace wide-ranging issues such as witnesses who lacked both credibility and consistency being taken at face value and members of the gardaí stonewalling the DPP itself.
It’s pointed out at the start of the report that there is “No forensic evidence linking Ian Bailey to the scene”. He had volunteered blood, hair, and fingerprint samples to the gardaí. This was in spite of the fact that, as the DPP highlights, in his former profession as a crime reporter in the UK Bailey “was aware of the nature of forensic evidence” and that it could comprehensively incriminate the guilty. The trial in France introduced no new forensic evidence to link him to the scene and the murder.
The evidence of Marie Farrell, the witness who initially claimed she saw Bailey walking late from the direction of Toscan du Plantier’s home on the night of her murder, was described by the DPP as being unreliable. Yet these initial statements by Farrell, which she retracted years later, were accepted by the French. As for Bailey’s apparent admissions of guilt, the DPP found that they “appear to be sarcastic responses to questions”. This includes his comments to Callanan about trying to “resurrect” his career. And it includes the apparent conversation between Bailey and Fuller. The DPP noted that Fuller’s statement came at a time when the Garda’s actions were “bound to create a climate in which witnesses became suggestible”.
The DPP report also discusses the statement made by Malachi Reed. It noted that it was “abundantly clear that Malachi Reed was not upset by Ian Bailey” after the latter had dropped him home. In fact, the DPP pointed out that it was after a conversation with a garda the following day that “he became upset and turned a conversation which had not apparently up until then alarmed him into something sinister”.
And then there’s the Garda’s arrest of Bailey’s partner, Jules Thomas. She was arrested for the Toscan du Plantier murder on 10 February 1997. But the arrest appeared to the DPP to be illegal. This was because it discovered she was asked no questions about her involvement in the murder. The DPP wrote that her “questioning indicates that she was arrested to obtain information which could be used against Bailey”. And given this, “her arrest and detention was unlawful”.
The French ignoring of the report means that none of this was taken into consideration. It means that a trial was held using evidence that was roundly dismissed by the DPP; evidence which resulted in the DPP clearly stating in unequivocal terms that “A prosecution against Bailey is not warranted by the evidence”.
Frank Buttimer, Bailey’s solicitor, is explicit in his condemnation of the French trial, or “so-called trial” as he refers to it. Although not present in France, based on the information he’s seen he says what took place there “was not in any way a trial that we in a common law jurisdiction would understand a trial to be”. He said that what actually happened was a “rubber-stamping exercise” and nothing more.
And this was done to “justify the predetermination of guilt with no regard to the standards of proof” that are usually required in a trial. He also points out that while pursuing this course the French authorities have made light of the “DPP’s office and its independence and its functions”.
As for Bailey, Buttimer said that he’s in a “nightmarish” scenario due to being stuck in limbo; innocent in Ireland but guilty in France.
Reactions to the verdict in West Cork have been varied. Many are happy with the result, believing that Bailey was guilty long before the trial began. The French verdict simply vindicates their beliefs. But there are others who are not so convinced. They think that regardless of Bailey’s guilt or innocence the French trial was a fiasco which in no way approached justice. One told Village that the gardaí investigating the murder in 1996 and 1997 “were so incompetent that any chances of getting someone went out the window”. And therefore, they had “mixed” feelings about the trial and subsequent verdict.
The family of the murdered Frenchwoman are happy with the result, however. As the verdict was read out they embraced. Her son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, later said the verdict “is a victory for justice”. And he called on the Irish government to extradite Bailey. Bertrand Bouniol, the brother of the victim, described it as “an important step”. It appears that the French authorities have yet to issue another arrest warrant or request Bailey’s extradition. They’re likely to come soon though. And in the event that Bailey is extradited, he would then be put on trial for a second time given his absence the first time around. This second trial would, like the first, be unlikely to produce any new evidence against the former journalist.
In the meantime Bailey and his partner Jules Thomas continue to live in West Cork while he awaits another extradition request. And the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier continue their fight for justice after 22 years.