Couple heard journalist 'confess to killing', libel trial told

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The Independent Online

A couple said they heard a journalist confess to killing a French woman in 1998, a court heard yesterday. The reporter is suing eight newspapers for libel over claims he murdered Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December, 1996. The civil court in Cork was also told Ian Bailey, 47, had met the 38-year-old film-maker, despite his earlier denials.

The victim's body was found in her holiday home at Toormore, an isolated bay six miles from Schull in Cork, in December, 1996. The back of her head had been battered several times and her skull crushed by a concrete block. Despite one of the largest investigations in Irish criminal history, the murder remains unsolved.

Mr Bailey, who reported extensively on the case, was twice arrested by gardai but was released without charge. He continues to deny any involvement in the death.

In evidence yesterday, the seventh day of the defamation hearing, Ritchie and Rosie Shelly said they had been invited to Mr Bailey's home on New Year's Eve, 1998, but were so frightened by his actions and statements they left early.

Mr Shelly told Judge Patrick Moran that Mr Bailey had dominated the evening with talk about the murder and had insisted on showing the Shellys his file on the case. He said: "He [Mr Bailey] came back into the kitchen and he seemed very upset. He was crying and put his arms around me and said, 'I did it, I did it'. I asked him, 'You did what'? And he said, 'I went too far'." Mr Shelly added: "I assumed he was talking about the murder because that's what we were talking about all night."

Mrs Shelly said the incident left her very frightened. "He seemed to be obsessed by it [the murder]," she said. "I think he had every article that was published in his file." She said she then left the house with her husband. "I immediately recognised that it was a kind of confession," she said.

Alfie Lyons, Ms du Plantier's next-door-neighbour, said he had introduced Mr Bailey to Ms du Plantier when she called to his house in June, 1995. Mr Bailey had been doing gardening for Mr Lyons when Ms du Plantier called. "As far as I can recollect, I did introduce him [Mr Bailey] to Sophie Toscan du Plantier. I am 90 per cent certain I did," Mr Lyons said.

Mr Bailey is seeking damages totalling £175,000 against the Irish Sunday Independent, The Irish Star, Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent on Sunday. The newspapers deny libel, saying their stories were true and accurate.

The case continues.