Irish witnesses give evidence in French trial of Briton accused of murder

Two Irish witnesses have travelled to France to give evidence against a British man accused of murdering a French film director’s wife more than 20 years ago.

Ian Bailey, 62, is accused of killing Sophie Toscan du Plantier outside Schull, West Cork, two days before Christmas in 1996.

She was the wife of celebrated cinematographer Daniel Toscan du Plantier and the case is one of Ireland’s most famous unsolved murders.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Bailey, who lived three kilometres from the victim, was arrested twice in connection with the murder but was never charged, amid allegations of incompetence and corruption among local officers.

In witness statements read to the court on Tuesday, six locals claim Bailey confessed to them over the killing, but he denies any involvement in Ms Toscan du Plantier’s death or making any confession.

The case has taken many twists and turns over the years, including Bailey bringing a successful defamation case against newspapers in 2014.

The only witness to put him at the scene at the time of the killing later retracted her evidence, claiming she had been groomed and bullied by investigators into giving false evidence.

In a bid to finally get justice for Ms Toscan du Plantier’s family, French authorities began their own investigation in 2008.

A total of 28 people from West Cork have been interviewed by French police since 2008.

After two failed extradition bids, Bailey is being tried in his absence at the Cour d’Assises in Paris – France’s highest criminal court.

But the week-long trial has been hamstrung by Irish witnesses’ reluctance to attend.

Many complained they were not given enough warning, or did not have enough money to fund a trip to Paris.

One woman who did make the trip was Amanda Reed, mother of Malachi Reed who was 14 at the time of the killing.

Amanda Reed
Amanda Reed

Ms Reed, 60, told the court Malachi, who is now in his mid-30s, claimed at the time that Bailey had confessed to the killing as he gave him a lift home.

She said that on February 4 1997, her son had admitted getting a lift from Bailey while Bailey was quite drunk.

“He told me something had happened in the car and he didn’t realise how serious it was,” she said.

“Mr Bailey had turned round to him in the car and said ‘I went up there and smashed her brains in with a rock’.”

She continued: “He was very upset and I said to him that it was a very serious thing and we had to speak to the gardai – it wasn’t for us to decide what this thing was about and we just told the guards.”

Ms Reed said, according to Malachi, the comment had come out of nowhere and they hadn’t been talking about the case.

She said he hadn’t told her straight away because he had been afraid she would be angry with him for getting in a car with Bailey when he was clearly drunk.

The witness said that following the alleged comment from Bailey, Malachi had been so frightened he had bought new locks for their doors.

Mr Reed declined to attend the court in France.

Ms Reed said the incident had a huge effect on her son’s life, which was made even harder because of his age.

She said: “Then Mr Bailey took the newspapers to court a few years later and Malachi went to court for that case and the newspapers put him all over the front page so he was very famous in Ireland for a while and that was not easy for him.”

Also in attendance was Bill Fuller, a man who had considered himself a friend of Bailey.

Bill Fuller (right), leaves the Cour d’Assises in Paris
Bill Fuller (right), leaves the Cour d’Assises in Paris

Mr Fuller claims Bailey recounted a scenario to him the day after the murder, telling him: “You did it … you saw her in Spar and she got you excited as she walked through the aisles with her tight arse.

“You went to her place to see what you could get, but she wasn’t interested so you attacked her. She tried to escape and you ran after her. Then you threw something at the back of her head and you went further than you planned to.”

Mr Fuller told the court he believes Bailey was just recounting what had actually happened and switching the perpetrator.

Other accounts of Bailey’s alleged confessions were read to the court, including one from Helen Callanan, who was editor of the Sunday Tribune at the time of the murder.

She hired Bailey as a freelancer to cover the case, but when she confronted him over rumours he was a suspect, he responded: “It was me, I did it, I killed her to resurrect my [journalism] career.”

The case is due to be decided by a judge and two professional magistrates on Friday.

Bailey has branded the case in France a “show trial” but if he were to be convicted and then extradited, he would be tried again by a jury and given the opportunity to mount a defence.