Belfast Telegraph

Du Plantier case phone tapes found

Gardai had an unbelievable level of contact with journalists during the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation, the High Court has been told.

Lawyers for Ian Bailey, who is suing the state for wrongful arrest over the 1996 killing in west Cork, claimed that they were not aware until now of the huge amount of contact with the media.

Martin Giblin, senior counsel for the 57-year-old, told the court there had been an extraordinary level of contact with journalists.

"The level of communication is beyond belief. There were hundreds and hundreds of communications with journalists. We were not aware that it was of that nature," he said.

Mr Giblin also said he was seeking to identify three gardai in a document from the Director of Public Prosecutions' office which raised concerns over the investigation.

Ms Toscan du Plantier was murdered in Toormore near Schull, west Cork, a couple of days before Christmas 1996. Mr Bailey was arrested twice and never charged. He has vehemently protested his innocence.

He also successfully fought an extradition application by French authorities for him to face questioning in Paris over the murder.

Mr Bailey, a former journalist originally from Manchester but living in west Cork, with his partner Jules Thomas, is suing the Garda Commissioner and Irish state for wrongful arrest over the Toscan du Plantier investigation.

Twelve boxes of material relating to the Garda investigation and 130 tapes of phone calls in and out of stations have been received by his lawyers as part of that lawsuit, the court was told.

Boxes of transcriptions from tapes are among the material handed over to Mr Bailey's lawyers.

But the court heard some of the tapes are of different quality and some of the material on paper has been redacted, including one statement that has been completely blacked out.

The evidence about the level of recorded calls in the investigation led to the uncovering of widespread and routine taping of phone calls in more than 20 Garda stations since the 1980s. The scandal led to the resignation of Martin Callinan as Garda Commissioner.

The disclosure in court of the amount of taped conversations followed reports this week detailing the level of contact between investigating officers in west Cork and a discredited witness and journalists.

It has been reported that 133 recorded tapes from Bandon Garda station have been recovered. Thirty-six involve conversations between gardai and Marie Farrell, a shopkeeper who made an incriminating statement placing Mr Bailey close to the murder scene only to withdraw it. She said she made it under duress from gardai.

Another 37 are said to be conversations involving only gardai, including a conference call, 44 tapes of conversations between gardai and journalists.

Judge John Hedigan warned that the damages action could be jeopardised by the level of leaks from the case.

"Commentary upon and prejudgment of intended evidence not even produced before the court much less assessed by it, is capable of impeding or prejudging the course of justice in any proceedings and should be made with great care to avoid doing so," he said.

"This warning is not aimed at the parties to this case or to any particular group or person but is made with the aim of ensuring a fair trial of the issues that have been brought before this court for determination."

Judge Hedigan said both sides in any legal action deserve the right to have their case heard in a dispassionate and rational court of law.

He adjourned the case until May 9 with the aim that it will be heard in full towards the end of the year.

Mr Bailey's case is expected to be heard in full by a jury.

Further reports this week also suggested that he could be in line for a damages claim in the region of 2.5 million euro (£2.07m) if his lawsuit is successful.

Part of the claim in the High Court includes statements that the media were used by gardai to further their case against Mr Bailey.

Judge Hedigan is overseeing case management and discovery issues in the case before it is listed for a hearing in full.

In his statement to the court following today's brief hearing he also said: "The courts do not seek or wish to restrict vigorous discussion by the media or the public of matters of great interest and importance.

"The courts in fact are the very place to which people come in order to vindicate their right to discussion of such matters. A word of caution however may be appropriate where that discussion involves matters that have been brought before the courts for determination and resolution."

Judge Hedigan said the purpose of sub judice rules was to avoid any real or substantial risk of prejudicing the course of justice.

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