Journalist's libel case over killing is thrown out

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The Independent Online

Irish police have left the door open for a re-examination of a case in which an English journalist was suspected of the murder of a Frenchwoman seven years ago after his libel claim that he had been wrongly named as her likely killer was thrown out of court.

Ian Bailey, 46, who brought a two-week defamation case costing nearly £1m against eight British and Irish newspapers, was described in a judgment delivered yesterday as a man capable of "exceptional" violence who had deliberately sought notoriety about the killing.

The freelance journalist was twice arrested in relation to the frenzied killing of the French documentary maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 38, at her holiday home near the town of Schull on the coast of west Cork two days before Christmas in 1996. Mr Bailey has not been charged in connection with the murder.

Garda sources said a copy of the transcript from the libel trial had been ordered by detectives and the Irish director of public prosecutions (DPP) to see whether there were fresh grounds for investigation.

It is thought that the Irish DPP, who said in a letter before the trial that there were no plans to bring a prosecution, will want to look at Mr Bailey's response to claims from witnesses that he mentioned the murder before he claimed he first knew about it.

Judge Patrick Moran, sitting at Cork Circuit Court, struck out the journalist's complaint against six of the newspapers, including The Independent on Sunday, that he had been unfairly portrayed by them as the killer of Mme Toscan du Plantier, the wife of a leading French film maker.

Mr Bailey left court yesterday stony-faced and silent, publicly condemned for three incidents in which he had beaten his partner, the Welsh artist Jules Thomas, and facing potential ruin with costs of up to €600,000 (£420,000) on each side.

Dismissing Mr Bailey's claim for damages of up to €266,000, the judge said: "The plaintiff says that the papers portrayed him as a murderer. These articles do not convey to me that he was the murderer. What they do convey is that he was the suspect and that he was arrested on suspicion of murder."

During the trial, the journalist admitted that his attacks against Ms Thomas had been "appalling". In a notebook after one attack, Mr Bailey, who left Britain for Ireland to write poetry and pursue his playing of the bodhran, or Irish drum, wrote: "I severely damaged you and made you feel death was near."

Delivering his 40-minute ruling, Judge Moran said: "I personally have no hesitation in describing Mr Bailey as a violent man and the defendants were perfectly justified in their description of him as violent towards women."

Despite this record for domestic violence, the judge ruled that Mr Bailey had been wrongly described by two newspapers, The Sun and the Daily Mirror, as having beaten his former wife, Sarah Limbrick, during their marriage in the early 1980s. He was awarded €8,000 (£5,700) in damages.