Falsely fingering Sophie’s killer
- 19 October 2005
- Vincent Browne
How Marie Farrell claims she was induced into falsely identifying Ian Bailey as the person she saw near the scene of the murder around the time of the murder.
By Vincent Browne
The gardaí were fully aware at all times of the falsehood of statements made by the key witness, Marie Farrell, implicating Ian Bailey in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder. Not just that, but Marie Farrell made these false statements at the urgings and promptings of gardaí.
This is the key charge made by solicitor for Ian Bailey, Frank Buttimer, in a letter, dated 11 October, sent to Michael McDowell, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This is expected to be the central issue in the high level Garda inquiry into the investigation of the murder of Sophie du Plantier on the night of 22/23 December 1996.
Frank Buttimer was first contacted by Marie Farrell on 18 April last and she visited his offices in Washington St, Cork, on 10 May. In the course of the ensuing interview she said her claims about seeing Ian Bailey close to the scene of Sophie du Plantier’s murder, early in the morning of 23 December 1996, were false.
She told Frank Buttimer she had persistently maintained to gardaí that the statements she had made at the urgings of the force were false and that she continued to be pressurised by gardaí to stand by these false statements.
It has also emerged that Marie Farrell has claimed she informed senior gardaí from Garda headquarters in Dublin up to five years ago about how she had been pressurised into making the false statement concerning Ian Bailey, but that they indicated they had no wish to explore such a possibility, even though they were then conducting a review generally of the performance of that section of An Garda Siochana engaged in the Sophie du Plantier murder.
There is some doubt that either Ian Bailey or Marie Farrell will cooperate with the inquiry instituted by the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, because of the alleged involvement of senior members of An Garda Siochana in the affair. Marie Farrell runs a shop with her husband, Chris Farrell, in Schull, Co Cork. She is originally from Longford. Ian Bailey is from England and was a journalist. He has been based in Schull for many years and was regarded by the gardaí from the time of Sophie du Plantier’s murder as the prime suspect.
The weekend of the killing
Sophie Toscan du Plantier shopped in Schull on Saturday, 21 December 1996, the day before she was murdered. She called into the clothes shop of Marie Farrell on the main street in Schull around 3 pm. The women did not know each other. Sophie just looked around without making a purchase. Marie Farrell realised only subsequently who she was from the television coverage of her murder.
Around the same time – some time between 2 pm and 3 pm that Saturday afternoon – Marie Farrell noticed a peculiar looking man across the road from her shop. She said he was wearing a long, dark overcoat, had short hair, looked scruffy and dishevelled and was of sallow complexion.
Nobody, as far as we are aware, has attached any significance to the coincidence of Sophie du Plantier and this person being in Schull around the same time on that Saturday afternoon. But some time during the following Sunday night, or in the early hours of the Monday morning, Sophie du Plantier was murdered near her holiday home outside Schull.
Marie Farrell and her husband, Chris Farrell, had two adjoining shops in Schull. One was a clothes shop, the other an ice cream parlour – a counter and till in a front room, a back room with seating and a juke box, with adjoining toilets.
The Farrells had previously lived in England. They had five children. Both Marie Farrell and Chris Farrell worked in the shops in Schull and in a street stall they had at Coal Quay in Cork. By all accounts, Chris and Marie Farrell got on well together. They were to go to England by car early in the New Year in 1997 to get supplies for their clothes shop and street stall. But a complication entered the life of Marie Farrell just then, which seems to have been central to the events that ensued.
On the morning of Sunday, 22 December, 1996, she travelled to Cork to work on the street stall – she and her husband took turns in doing that. While in Cork she met a former boyfriend. The relationship with this man predated her marriage. She said later she had “almost lived” with this man at the time. Her husband, Chris, had known of their past relationship.
Upon meeting this man on that Sunday, she agreed to meet him in Schull that night. On returning to Schull herself that evening, she said she was going out to meet some friends and she left her family home at around 10 pm. Shortly afterwards she met this man in a hotel car park. They drove in convoy to Goleen, some miles away – she in her van and he in his car. Then together they went in his car to Barleycove beach, where they stayed for some time. Then they drove several times along the road between Goleen and Toormore. Around 3 am, while driving along this road, she noticed a person who, it seemed to her, resembled the strange-looking man she had noticed in Schull on the afternoon of Saturday, 21 December. This was at Airhill, beside Kealfadda bridge, close to where the body of Sophie du Plantier was to be found some hours later. She did not remark on this to the other person in the car at the time, probably because no significance then attached to the coincidence. She got home around 4.10 am on the morning of Monday, 23 December.
News of Sophie du Plantier’s brutal murder dominated the news headlines on that Christmas eve, Christmas Day and subsequently. And on Christmas Day, Marie Farrell contacted the gardaí and told them about seeing the strange person in Schull on the previous Saturday afternoon. She also told them that she saw this person subsequently at Airhill at 7.15 am on the morning of Sunday, 22 December, while on her way to Cork. She did not tell them about seeing this same person at 3.00 am on the morning of 23 December, since at the time she was with a man other than her husband.
Two days later, gardaí called on her and she made the first of a series of statements concerning what she had seen. This first statement recounted how she had seen the scruffy person in Schull on the Saturday afternoon and how she thought she had seen the same person at 7.15 am on the morning of Sunday, 22 December, at Airhill. She said this person had tried to thumb a lift.
There is a significance to this first statement which might prove of consequence. In describing the person she saw near her shop in Schull on that Saturday afternoon, she said he was approximately 5 foot, 10 inches in height. This would make the man considerably shorter than Ian Bailey, who is over 6 foot, 3 inches. We understand Marie Farrell has said she initially told gardaí the person she saw on that Saturday afternoon was only 5 foot, 8 inches tall but that on prompting she revised this estimate to 5 foot, 10 inches.
Two days later, gardaí called on her again, this time with a video tape taken, we understand, on Christmas Day. They asked her to view the tape and see if she recognised the man she had seen on the Saturday afternoon and subsequently. She viewed the tape but recognised nobody. The tape, we understand, prominently featured Ian Bailey at a function a few days previously. The key issue is that Marie Farrell did not identify Ian Bailey as the person she had seen in Schull and later on the road.
It seems that at a very early stage, some gardaí regarded Ian Bailey as a prime suspect for the murder, even though, as far as we are aware, there was no evidence of any sort linking him with it at that stage.
It appears Marie Farrell had anxieties about not telling the gardaí about seeing the suspicious person in the vicinity of the murder around the time the murder may have taken place. She did not want to come up front with the information because of the compromised situation in which she felt herself to be, so she decided to make an anonymous phone call to the Garda confidential line. She did so, saying that she saw a suspicious looking person – she gave the same description of that person – on the road near Kealfadda bridge at 3 am, approximately, on the night of the murder. She gave her name as “Fiona” (as it happens, her sister’s name).
The gardaí were naturally very interested in this evidence and on the RTE Crimeline programme in early January 1997, a request was made to the person who had phoned the confidential line with this information to make further contact. Marie Farrell responded by making a further call to the confidential line, confirming what she had said earlier but saying she did not want to come forward in person for personal reasons.
Then, out of the blue, the gardaí called on her in her shop in Schull and told her they knew she was the anonymous caller. She immediately felt in a compromised, vulnerable position. She was invited to speak to gardaí in a private house, which she did, and subsequently, on 22 January, 1997, she made a second statement. This time, instead of describing the man she had seen acting suspiciously in Schull on the afternoon of Saturday, 21 December 1996, as 5 foot, 10 inches (this was after she had first said he was 5 foot, 8 inches), she now, in this second statement, said he was “very tall”.
This second statement repeated the claim that at around 7 am on the morning of Sunday, 22 December she saw this person near the scene of the murder. That statement went on to identify Ian Bailey specifically as the “suspicious” person she had seen on both occasions. It made no reference to seeing this person also at 3 am on the morning of Monday, 23 December, but it is clear she had told gardaí of this at this stage.
There were further sessions with the gardaí following this. Six days after making that second statement, she was interviewed again, by three gardaí. The memo of the interview (this was not a statement made by her) has her giving a full account of her meeting the former boyfriend and driving on the road from Goleen to Toormore. The memo said she said he (the suspicious man) had his hands “on the top of his head”. The memo records her saying how worried she was and stating “I cannot go to court on this, you understand the position yourselves”. The memo records how she went with a garda to the scene where she said she saw the suspicious person, whom she by then was identifying as Ian Bailey.
Ian Bailey was arrested and brought to Bandon Garda station on 10 February 1997, less than two weeks after the interview with Marie Farrell. The media was made aware in advance of his arrest and his arrival and departure from the Bandon Garda station got huge publicity.
Then, four days later, on 14 February 1997, Marie Farrell made a third statement to gardaí. In this statement, she acknowledged that around 3 am on the morning of Monday, 23 December 1996 she saw the suspicious man on the road near the scene where Sophie du Plantier’s body was discovered a few hours later. The statement said: “He had his two hands to the side of his face, but I could see his face… I immediately recognised this man as the same man as I had seen at main street Schull on Saturday 21st December 1996 and at Airhill, Schull on Sunday 22nd December 1996 and which I referred to in my previous statement. I now know this man to be Ian Bailey. I have seen him on a number of occasions since and I am definite it was him I saw on the road on the morning of 23rd December 1996”.
It is this identification she now states was false. While she says she did see a man fitting the description she had given initially on the Saturday afternoon and on the mornings of the Sunday and the Monday, she says she did not identify the man as Ian Bailey and she has specifically withdrawn that part of her evidence.
The contention on the part of Ian Bailey is that Marie Farrell made this “identification” at the urgings and promptings of gardaí and that at all times the gardaí knew this “identification” to be false.
Marie Farrell has claimed that she repeatedly informed members of An Garda Siochana that this “identification” was false but no heed was paid to her representations. We also understand she informed a member of a review group sent from An Garda Siochana to audit the performance of the Garda division based out of Bandon, Co Cork but, again, no heed was paid to her representations.
When Ian Bailey instituted legal proceedings against eight newspapers in 2003 she was placed in an immediate dilemma when she was placed under a sub poena (a legal requirement) to give evidence of sighting Ian Bailey in the early hours of 23 December 1996, close to the scene where Sophie du Plantier’s body was found a few hours later.
We understand she made it clear to serving and former members of An Garda Siochana at the time she did not want to give this evidence. However, one such person, we understand, was insistent she give this evidence.
Nevertheless, this is an issue she will have to face in the coming investigations into what occurred: why did she give evidence, which she now says was false evidence, under oath. That evidence which she now says was false was a crucial factor in the libel trial, which Ian Bailey lost. In his judgement in the case, Judge Patrick Moran said: “Mrs Farrell said she came here reluctantly… On the balance of probabilities I accept what Mrs Farrell told me that the man she saw at Kealfadda bridge was in her view Ian Bailey”.
It was by far the most telling evidence in the case and, with that evidence withdrawn, it is hard to see how Ian Bailey would not be successful in his appeal against the judgement of Judge Moran in the case (there were other reasons for challenging that judgement which appears to have been legally mistaken on a number of issues).
There were contacts between Marie Farrell and Ian Bailey subsequent to the statements she made to gardaí and her “identification” of him close to the scene of the murder around the time of the murder. Finella Thomas, daughter of Ian Bailey’s partner, Jules Thomas, started to baby-sit for the children of Chris and Marie Farrell. This was at a time when Marie Farrell realised Ian Bailey had got to know she had made a statement to gardaí “identifying” him as being close to the scene of the murder around the time of the murder.
Curiously, although she was later to make claims of being threatened by Ian Bailey, she had no apprehension about such a close association.
According to a further statement she made to gardaí on 10 July 1997, on Sunday 22 June 1997 she was in the Galley pub in Schull with husband, Chris. She was talking to Jules Thomas at the bar about the babysitting arrangements. Ian Bailey came up behind and said: “I think we need to talk, here is something I want you to do for me but we can’t talk here”. He wanted her to make a statement on tape withdrawing her “identification” of him as being near the scene of the murder at the time of the murder, precisely what she has now done.
On the next morning, Monday 23 June, he called at door of her ice cream shop and said, “I will see you later”. On the following Wednesday, Finella Thomas came in to say Ian would be in later in the week. The following day, Finella, who was babysitting, said Ian would call at eleven on the following Saturday.
Marie Farrell spoke to gardaí about this and she was fitted out with a tape recorder to record whatever exchange might occur between her and Ian Bailey.
There ensued a hilarious scene.
Ian Bailey arrived around 11.45 am on the Saturday morning. He opened his jacket and said “I am all wired up”. He had a tape recorder strapped to his belt. The phone rang and while she was answering it Bailey went into the seating area, away from where she had set up her tape recorder, obtained from the gardaí.
When she went into the back room, Bailey said “Can I assume this place is clean?”. She asked what he meant. He said, “bugs and things”. At that stage, according to her statement, he jumped up on a chair to check on top of the jukebox. He then checked in the toilets. He came back, sat down and asked for coffee and a cigarette. She said she had no cigarettes and he asked her to get cigarettes for him, ten Majors. At this stage, she realised he had drink taken. She got a shop assistant, Geraldine O’Brien, to get cigarettes and alert the gardaí. Bailey was going on about the gardaí and at one stage he took from his pocket a sheet of paper on which he had written a poem about one of the gardaí, who he said was his main tormentor.
He then produced a notebook on which he had written the address of her former residence in London. Also the address of her husband’s business in England. When she asked where he got this he said he was an “investigative reporter”, according to her statement.
He made menacing comments about the English police knowing of her whereabouts now. He then took out the business card of his then solicitor, Con Murphy, now a judge. He said, “I know it was you who saw me at Kealfadda bridge but I did not murder her and you will ring my solicitor and you will make a statement to him saying that you made a false statement to the gardaí about me”, according to her statement.
He asked for money for the jukebox . She went to look after a customer in the clothes shop and when she had come back he was playing a disc on the jukebox and had the volume turned up very loud. He asked her to cash a cheque for £20 from the Cork Examiner. He said “That is all her murder was worth to me in the end. I billed them for £30 but they only sent me £20”. (Bailey had written several stories for newspapers in Ireland and the UK about the Sophie du Plantier murder, until such time as he himself was arrested in connection with the murder.)
There is evidence now that following this exchange Marie Farrell did attempt to make contact with Ian Bailey’s solicitor, Con Murphy, but on failing to get through did not make another attempt.
Subsequent to this Marie Farrell made further statements to gardaí that Ian Bailey had made menacing gestures to her on the street (running his hand across his neck in what seemed like a cut-throat motion). Later on, she said he said to her one day: “I am disappointed you did not do as I asked. I will have to work out what my next move will be”. On another occasion, she said Jules Thomas said to her on the street, “your day will come”. In early 1998, she said Bailey had said to her on the street near her home: “There is just one thing I need you to do for me, if you do this I will never ask you to do anything else. Just go on tape and say the detectives made you make a false statement about me”. She replied, according to Marie Farrell’s statement, “Ian would you fuck off”. According to her statement he started roaring: “there was no blood on me that night, you saw no blood on me”.
The initiative of Marie Farrell in contacting Ian Bailey’s solicitor was surprising. When she first phoned Frank Buttimer’s office in Cork on 18 April last he did not initially recognise who she was and was then taken aback. She asked to come to see him and they arranged a date but she did not turn up. She called again made another arrangement and broke that as well but finally turned up in his office on 10 May last.
She knew Frank Buttimer was Ian Bailey’s solicitor then because he had written to her on behalf of Ian Bailey a year previously, warning her not to repeat defamatory remarks about his client. A solicitor replied on her behalf, dismissing the contention.
At that meeting on 10 May she told Frank Buttimer her entire story. There were a number of subsequent meetings and at the end of July he advised her to seek independent legal advice. He recommended a colleague, Donal Daly, also in Cork. For a reason not clear, she did not wish to avail of the services of the solicitor who replied to Frank Buttimer’s letter of the previous year.
Ian Bailey was astounded Marie Farrell had done, eventually, what he had asked her to do seven years previously, although, as reported above, there is a suggestion that she did attempt to contact his then solicitor, Con Murphy, at that time in 1998.