Ian Bailey sits alone in his garden shed. His face looks haunted, his appearance dishevelled. He stares into a camera, takes a long sip of red wine and begins to talk.
This is Ian Bailey interviewing Ian Bailey…” he says. “Hello Ian.”
The idea for the confessional-style diary was Jim Sheridan’s. Last year, the three-time-Oscar-nominated director gave Bailey a hand-held camera and encouraged the man arrested twice over the west Cork murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier to unburden himself. The results were better than Sheridan expected.
“He has no boundaries, very few filters. I asked him if he would talk about how he felt, what’s been going on and to give me some of his thought process. It’s very revealing. He doesn’t hold back.”
It’s been almost 24 years since the French filmmaker was beaten to death outside her cottage. She had 50 injuries. Her white leggings were still caught on a barbed-wire fence. Detectives believe she tried to flee her attacker before he beat her to death with a concrete block.
Bailey was the English journalist on the scene who, Sheridan says, “seemed to know too much”.
Gardaí arrested and questioned Bailey in 1997 and in 1998, then released him without charge. In 2001 the Director of Public Prosecutions ruled the evidence did not support a prosecution. Since then he has successfully contested three European arrest warrants to face trial in France, where he was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison in absentia. He has always maintained his innocence.
Bailey has co-operated fully with Sheridan’s five-part documentary Murder At The Cottage, which will be shown on Sky in the new year. A rival Netflix production, in three parts, will also air in 2021 and has the cooperation of the Du Plantier family.
Watching his footage of Bailey’s most private thoughts, Sheridan says he felt “incredulous … you wouldn’t think anybody would say these things. Here is a man who is saying ‘no matter what happens, I’m going to tell the truth about how I feel’.”
The filmmaker will not say whether he believes Bailey is guilty. He says he prefers to keep an open mind, but admits: “For a long time, I felt terrible about being around Ian Bailey. I felt ‘Jesus, this guy could have done it, this guy is odd’. He has a dominating personality. He domineers conversations and is eccentric in a British way. The sarcasm and black humour.”
Familiarity eased his mind: “The longer you stay with someone, even if they are the killer, the feeling wears off. You think, ‘that’s just Ian.'”
Sheridan says his fascination with the case (he has spent six years on the project) stems from personal trauma. When he was a teenager, he came home from school to find his brother Frankie dying in his mother’s arms. He had fallen down the stairs.
“When my brother died, my attitude became ‘F**k death! Come on death, I’ll take you on.’ I kind of want to go straight up to it now, look it in the face and not blink.
“I prayed to God my brother would be OK and he wasn’t. So from that moment on, I felt ‘there is no God’ and I lost the sustenance of an afterlife. Now I’d rather know everything was OK in this life. It’s why I am trying to search for justice for this woman and I will be pi**ed off at anything that doesn’t do that.”
He was also spellbound by Sophie’s beauty. Right up until the final edits, the sight of the French woman on screen left a lump in his throat. “When I was doing the voiceover images of Sophie herself, it was very upsetting to me. I had to hold back the tears. I got caught up.”
Sophie’s facial injuries were so bad, local reporters said that it was as though her attacker had tried to erase her beauty.
Sheridan believes it tells us a lot about her killer: “He is someone who has real issues. Like the guy in Psycho, it’s deep. He is a person who has a deep problem with women.”
Does he think du Plantier knew her killer?
“I can’t see it being any other way.”
He has a theory about the murder. “My feeling – and I could be wrong – was that she was opening the gate for someone to let them out in their car. She was saying goodbye and she got out to open it and that’s when they hit her from behind.
“If she was being chased from the house, then why didn’t she turn to the neighbours? The neighbours were 50 yards away. The gate is 150 yards.”
It is known that Bailey assaulted his partner of 30 years, Jules Thomas, on a number of occasions.
When filming, Sheridan didn’t shy away from the subject. “I asked Ian about that in front of Jules and I asked Jules.
“She has the stain of being linked with the murder when she did nothing wrong as far as we can tell. She has to live that life. All the internal stuff. There is no way you go through all of this without having issues on every level with every member of your family.
“Bailey has been accused of murder and it has broken out in all sorts of horrible ways. Everywhere you live, everywhere you go, everything you do. It’s going to follow you and haunt you for the rest of your life.”
That’s why, he says, “I’m still trying to get to the truth. I’m still trying to pursue it to the final end. I can’t finish my relationship with Bailey until I finish the documentary.”
Jim Sheridan was speaking at the launch a short film competition at the Dublin Arabic Film Festival, presented by Dubai Duty Free. The festival runs online from Dec 11-13.
Source: Irish News