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English journalist ‘trapped’ in Ireland over extradition bid
Ian Bailey, an English journalist-turned poet, has said he is trapped in Ireland because of an attempt to extradite him to France where he faces 25 years in jail for allegedly murdering a French film-maker, Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
A high court in Dublin will hold a hearing on Monday into a European arrest warrant issued by a Paris court, the latest twist in a legal saga over Ireland’s most notorious unsolved murder.
Du Plantier was bludgeoned to death outside her holiday home in rural west Cork on 23 December 1996.
Bailey, 62, who lives a few miles from the murder scene, denies any involvement and said he was a victim of persecution by blinkered authorities who let the real murderer slip away. “I never murdered anyone,” he said in an interview.
Irish prosecutors long ago decided there was insufficient evidence to press charges, leaving Bailey a free man in Ireland, but last year a French court convicted him in absentia and launched an extradition attempt – the third by French authorities.
“I’m technically trapped in Ireland,” said Bailey. “Unless I travel in handcuffs or in a coffin I’m curtailed.”
He was arrested, bailed and forced to surrender his passport last month when the court endorsed the warrant.
Bailey’s legal team will fight the extradition attempt, said his solicitor, Frank Buttimer. “We are required to file submissions in response to the application to seek his removal. We’ll be dealing with that matter in court.”
The hearing will be closely watched in France, where du Plantier’s family has waged a high-profile campaign for Bailey’s extradition. “What the family wish to see is a new trial where he is present and is legally represented on an equitable basis,” Alain Spilliaert, a lawyer who represents the family, told reporters last month.
Speaking during a recent visit to Dublin, Bailey said the prospect of dying in a French prison was affecting his health. “Recently I started to shudder and judder and shake. I’d never experienced anything like it. I’m really suffering physically and psychologically from this thing.”
Bailey grew up in Gloucestershire and worked as a freelance journalist in the 1980s, filing stories to the Sunday Times, before moving to west Cork, a bucolic Atlantic region known as the Irish riviera. It is popular with artists, bohemians and foreigners.
Bailey initially filed newspaper articles on du Plantier’s murder until becoming the prime suspect, a label that stuck, leaving him in limbo.
“It’s a Kafkaesque nightmare – the journalist goes to investigate the murder and becomes the suspect,” said the film director Jim Sheridan, who is making a documentary about the case. Sheridan has amassed more than 400 hours of footage over five years. “The difficulty is where do you stop the story? It’s ongoing.”
Sheridan said Bailey inhabited a nexus of celebrity and notoriety similar to that of OJ Simpson. In Ireland public opinion seemed to be tilting towards him but the French remained convinced of his guilt, said the director.
Bailey, who ekes a living selling poetry and pizzas, said he was a reluctant celebrity and tried to psychologically “bubble wrap” himself.
Some Irish detectives who investigated the murder were convinced of Bailey’s guilt. He had cuts on his face and hands, a record of violence against his Welsh partner, Jules Thomas, and admitted to having left their cottage – to go to an adjacent shed to write an article, he said – on the night of the murder.
But there was no forensic evidence, other evidence went missing and a key witness retracted testimony, saying police improperly pressured her. After Irish prosecutors declined to press charges French authorities took up the case. Under French law a person suspected of murdering a French citizen in another jurisdiction can be tried in France.
Last May the victim’s son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, visited Cork and from a church pulpit urged witnesses to attend the trial urged witnesses to testify at the French trial, saying his mother was not a ghost. “She is the victim of human cruelty and violence which has no place here.”
The family called the verdict a victory for truth and justice. Bailey’s lawyer, Buttimer, called it a sham.
The former journalist said he channelled the pressure into creativity. “No part of me enjoys being tortured but I’ve learned to get something out of it – poetry, singing, carving.”
Bailey recently published a second book of poems with titles such as A Thousand Arrows, Cell by Date and Bonfire that allude to his situation. He hopes to record the poems as audio books and is due to give a public reading next month. “I’m hoping to give the performance of my lifetime.”
This case will eventually turn into a Movie?