Reporter claiming libel admits he assaulted partner

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The Independent Online

An English journalist who claims he was wrongly portrayed as the man responsible for the frenzied murder of a French socialite admitted yesterday that he was capable of "losing control" and had inflicted a "savage assault" on his partner of 13 years.

Ian Bailey, 47, who is seeking damages for libel against eight British and Irish newspapers, told the Cork Circuit Court that he had left Jules Thomas, a Welsh artist, with with clumps of hair missing from her head, a black eye and her upper lip severed from her gums following a fight.

The admissions, made with Ms Thomas sitting nearby, came on the second day of the case brought by the freelance reporter over allegations that he suffered "trial by media" following his arrest for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 38, at her holiday home on an isolated bay on the south-west tip of Ireland. Mr Bailey was not charged and he continues to deny any involvement in the death.

The remains of the French documentary-maker and producer, who had suffered multiple blows to the back of her head before her skull was crushed by a concrete block, were found on the driveway to her converted farmhouse at Toormore, about six miles from Schull in Cork, on 23 December 1996. Despite one of the largest investigations in Irish criminal history, the murder remains unsolved.

Under cross-examination, Mr Bailey, who reported extensively on the killing of Mme. du Plantier, confirmed that eight months before the murder he had severely beaten Ms Thomas, 53, during a late-night argument as they were driving home. It was one of three occasions in which Mr Bailey admits to assaulting his partner between 1996 and 2001, and had been referred to in court by the reporter's legal team as an "indiscretion". Paul Gallagher, the barrister representing the newspapers, said that the incident could be more accurately described as "horrific violence" as he asked Mr Bailey to look at pictures of Ms Thomas's injuries from the night of 1 May 1996.

Mr Gallagher said: "Following this assault by you... her eye was purple and swollen to the size of a grapefruit and she was missing clumps of hair on her head."

Ms Thomas, who has three children, looked on impassively as Mr Bailey admitted he had caused the injuries. The newspapers' barrister asked the the journalist, who lives in the village of Schull, three miles from Mme. du Plantier's former home, about what had happened once the couple had reached their house. Mr Gallagher said: "This is something that would be remembered by a normal person if they had used horrific violence on their partner. You left Ms Thomas in the bedroom curled up like an animal screaming with pain."

Mr Bailey replied: "I would say that I hurt her very, very badly. I have made no secret of what happened." Asked whether he had "lost control", the reporter, who had left England in 1991 to write poetry and run a smallholding, said: "Yes." He admitted that in a subsequent attack two years ago, when he beat Ms Thomas with a crutch and was given a suspended prison sentence, he had also lost control. The court heard that, as a result of the first incident, Ms Thomas obtained an order banning the journalist from their home.

Mr Bailey insisted the incidents did not make him a violent man, adding they had been fuelled by drink and, in the case of the first assault, partly provoked by his partner.

The journalist claims that his portrayal in the media led to him being ostracised and has deprived him of a career. He is seeking damages of €38,000 (£23,000) against each of eight newspapers, 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 defaming Mr Bailey.

Mr Bailey had said under questioning from his barrister, James Duggan, he had been the subject of a campaign of intimidation by police and was arrested on 10 February 1997. He said: "They were telling me they had good strong evidence, that they would put me away for life. I was told that even if they could not pin this on me, I was finished in Ireland ... He [the driver] said, 'Yes, you will be found with a bullet in the back of your head'."

He denies claims made in several of the newspapers that he was seen washing his boots in a stream close to Mme du Plantier's home or burning blood-smeared clothes on the morning after the killing.