Donegal man recalls talk with murder suspect Ian Bailey

A RETIRED Donegal-based journalist who interviewed murder suspect Ian Bailey has recalled their 50-minute talk. 
Paddy Clancy was working for the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin when he travelled to the west Cork home of Mr Bailey following his first arrest for questioning over the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The French mother of one and television producer was bludgeoned to death two days before Christmas in 1996 at her holiday cottage in Schull.
The horrific murder rocked the quiet Irish town, and, 24 years later, the case still remains a mystery.
The unsolved murder has been brought under the spotlight again by six-time Oscar nominated film maker, Jim Sheridan whose five-part Sky Atlantic series ‘Murder at the Cottage – The Search for Justice for Sophie’ pieces together original evidence, never seen before footage and interviews with those closest to the case to try to make sense of what happened.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Mr Clancy, a former Donegal News contributor, told of how he interviewed Mr Bailey with three other reporters outside his home, before being invited in for a full interview.
“I interviewed Bailey for about 50 minutes to an hour and I can say that when I left his home I was no clearer if he had been responsible or not for the murder of Sophie.
“Myself and John Kierans, who was working on the Irish mirror, interviewed Ian Bailey in the sitting room of his home in west Cork. I remember his partner, Jules Thomas was sitting in the kitchen area during the interview.
“We were enquiring about his record of violence with women. It was known at that stage that he had been violent towards Jules. We never found any details out about Sara Limbrick, his first wife.  She kept a low profile in England. We quizzed him very seriously about it. I can’t say we got an admission of physical violence but we got some form of feeling that life wasn’t good between them.”
Mr Clancy said he remembers a very “calm” Mr Bailey.
“I do remember Bailey acknowledged he was a suspect in the garda investigation and that he was giving an interview to clear his name. He was very calm. He had been a journalist so he knew we were doing our job by asking the questions we were asking. He denied he had ever struck his wife Sara Limbrick but admitted his relationship was stormy and acrimonious.
“I didn’t expect to get a full hour with the suspect, and he seemed prepared to answer any question. I don’t know if it was part of a plot to deflect on the issue by being so ready to talk about the case that was being brought against him.
“From when I walked out of there that day to now I have never changed my mind in that I couldn’t say for sure if I believe he killed the filmmaker.”
Mr Bailey subsequently took libel action against eight Irish and English newspapers including the Irish Sun and the Irish Mirror.  He lost his libel case against six of the eight newspapers that he claimed defamed him following his arrest in 1997 for questioning over the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
“Bailey said both the article I wrote and the one by John Kierans levied false accusations of violence in his marriage to Sara,” said Mr Clancy.
Judge Patrick Moran said despite admitting he was sure Manchester-born Mr Bailey was a very violent man and had abused his partner, Jules Thomas on three occasions, such evidence of his first marriage had not been proven. Both newspapers were ordered to pay Mr Bailey €4,000 each. While it was disappointing for both newspapers involved, those at the Irish Sun and the Irish Mirror said there was vindication, as the bigger picture showed Mr Bailey had lost six out of the eight actions.
Mr Clancy said he remembers a sombre mood in Schull in the wake of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s murder.
“This was undoubtedly the biggest thing to hit Schull. The mood was of sadness that something like this could happen. It is such a lovely place.
“As reporters, we were moving around in our circles. I remember meeting a French reporter who came over from Paris. There was such world-wide attention.”
Mr Clancy described the probe into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier as “slipshod”.
“I think it was a slipshod investigation. The fact that the then State Pathologist John Harbison did not arrive on the scene for 24 hours or more after the murder was a serious error.”
Mr Bailey has consistently denied any involvement in the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. In 2019, a French court convicted him in absentia of her murder. A third attempt to extradite Mr Bailey to France, where he was given a 25-year prison sentence for the murder, failed in October 2020 after High Court Judge Mr Justice Paul Burns refused to order his surrender.
Mr Clancy said he has watched the first two episodes of ‘Murder at the Cottage’, and plans to watch the remaining three in the series.
“I thought it was a very well put together piece. My abiding memory of Bailey is his willingness to talk. I remember bumping into him years later in the High Court in Dublin. I was walking towards the foyer and I saw him and I called out to him to say hello. He said hello back, but he couldn’t remember who I was. I remember he was always anxious to talk to people.”
Mr Clancy has enjoyed a varied journalistic career. He was the first reporter to interview Mary Robinson when she became President of Ireland.
The Sligo native now lives in Rossnowlagh having bought a holiday home there 21 years ago.

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