FOR a man with a 25-year murder sentence hanging over his head, Ian Bailey seems remarkably chipper.
The 64-year-old, who was convicted of killing French filmmaker Sophie Toscan du Plantier, is sitting in his local pub when he tells me breezily: “I keep on keeping on.”
Sophie was 39 when she was pummelled beyond recognition with a breeze block close to her remote Irish holiday cottage in December 1996.
Bailey was twice arrested by Irish police for her murder but never charged.
He was later tried and found guilty in his absence by authorities in France.
But speaking exclusively to The Sun this week, he insists he is innocent and has nothing to hide.
And in the village of Glengarriff at the welcoming Perrin Inn where we meet — something of a home from home for the journalist-turned-poet — he is treated with something approaching celebrity respect.
Mum-of-four Caroline Somers, whose family run the pub, revealed: “He’s good with the kids. Ian scares people until they meet him. He gets a lot of support from young people.”
Convinced of his innocence, Caroline, 43, admits opinion among other locals in the area is “mixed”.
“Not too many have objected to him being here,” she adds.
“He’s had a few people banging on the window and shouting at him but that’s about it.”
Sophie’s family and friends, led by son Pierre Louis, are adamant Manchester-born Bailey has blood on his hands.
In 2019 he was convicted in France and sentenced to 25 years.
But Irish courts have three times denied attempts to extradite him.
When I ask Bailey directly if he murdered Sophie, he answers — without a flicker of the eye or twitch of the face — an emphatic: “No”.
Now, the mystery of Sophie’s murder — the subject of two recent documentary series on Netflix and Sky and a popular podcast — may be about to take a fresh turn.
Irish police have completed a cold case review and are considering reopening a full-scale investigation.
It is something Bailey supports as he sees Police Commissioner Drew Harris as “a clean pair of hands” and has told him: “My life has been ruined by this false narrative”.
Today, Bailey is a stooped and paunchy figure, yet one that still retains a raffish air.
Dressed in a black fedora — a gift from new girlfriend Ethna Staunton — shabby blue jacket and Middle Eastern-type scarf, he shuffles across the pub in sandals with the aid of a wooden walking staff.
The pub is something of a shrine to the “convicted” man.
A corner table by the window has been turned into his office — a writing desk piled with papers and notebooks.
My life has been ruined by this false narrative.
A shelf near the bar carries volumes of his poetry for sale. Below it hangs a pencil drawing of Bailey sent by a fan.
Drinkers pop in for a glimpse of the eccentric Englishman.
Bailey says his recent joining of social media has seen him contacted by a number of, “big-breasted ladies who wanted to become my bosom buddies”.
We settle down in the pub’s back room to discuss something that perhaps intrigues Bailey more than anything else — himself.
The son of a butcher, he says the past year has been, “one hell of a rollercoaster”.
As well as the documentaries that revived interest in the case, his partner of 30 years, artist Jules Thomas, booted him out last year.
Jules, from Wales, who suffered domestic abuse at Bailey’s hands, has said: “I asked him to go many times. I just found it was coming to the end of the road really. I was worn out.”
Referring to the time since the killing, she added: “I’m trying to move on. I’ve done enough. Twenty-four years of stress. It is a ghastly situation for anybody to be trapped in, but I was trapped as well until he went.”
For his part, Bailey simply says that Jules, “informed me our journey was over”. Asked why, he adds: “I don’t know. We never really spoke about it.
“I just asked her if her decision was irrevocable. She said it was. So I had to launch what I called Operation Vacate And Relocate.”
He calls the domestic abuse he inflicted on Jules — which saw her hospitalised in 1996, bleeding from the mouth, with a swollen eye and clumps of hair missing — “my eternal shame”.
He adds: “We’d both taken drink. That’s no excuse.”
Now Bailey “scrapes by”, claiming jobseekers’ allowance and lives in emergency temporary accommodation near the Perrin, some 25 miles from Jules’s home at Schull.
His dilapidated Toyota Corolla refuses to bump start and is left lifeless outside the pub.
I was told that everybody knows it was me. I should just admit it. I was told my partner didn’t want to see me because she’d reluctantly accepted I’d had something to do with the murder, which was nonsense.
The new woman in his life is County Mayo hat maker Ethna, 46, almost 20 years his junior.
“I’ve met a beautiful Irish lady,” he says with delight. “I think she followed my story and felt quite sympathetic towards me.
“She just appeared in my life one day and we kept in touch. We got on really well together.”
Victim Sophie’s family still owns the isolated white cottage at Toormore, where she spent her final night.
The bramble-lined lane where she fell amid the blows from her attacker has become a grim “murder tourism” attraction.
A warning notice barring “unauthorised entry” is nailed to a gate post there.
Locals have complained of people taking selfies at the cross that marks the spot where her body was found at around 10am on December 23, 1996.
Bailey, a 6ft 4in former rugby-playing grammar school boy, had been drinking the previous evening at two pubs in Schull with Jules.
A so-called “blow-in”, or newcomer, he had arrived in West Cork in 1991 as a Gloucestershire-based Fleet Street investigative journalist.
By the end of 1996 he was freelancing for Irish papers when a reporter from the Cork Examiner called to say there had been a murder at Toormore.
“I went out, located the scene and started to report on it,” he recalls. “I was the lead reporter.”
He would later become the chief suspect. On February 10, 1997, he was arrested on suspicion of murder.
He had been seen with scratch marks on his arms and a nick on his forehead.
He says: “I was told that everybody knows it was me. I should just admit it. I was told my partner didn’t want to see me because she’d reluctantly accepted I’d had something to do with the murder, which was nonsense.
I’m entirely sympathetic to Sophie’s family. I had nothing to do with the murder and I can’t convince them. It’s a tragedy.
“It was the beginning of what’s been a 25-year living nightmare.”
Bailey says the nick on his forehead came from a flapping turkey kicking out as he tried to kill it for Christmas.
And he says the scratches on his arms came when he climbed a 30ft Christmas tree to lop its top off.
His alibi — that he was in bed with Jules on the night of the murder — changed under police questioning.
On the morning Sophie’s body was found, Bailey had gone out to The Studio — an adjoining cottage close to the house where he lived with Jules.
“We went home, I had a story to write,” he tells me.
“So, during the night, I got up, went down to the table, and wrote my story and then went back to bed. So there were a few anomalies in what I told police, but it wasn’t anything deliberate.”
A number of local witnesses would later come forward to claim Bailey had confessed to the murder.
Richie Shelley said that at a New Year’s Eve party in 1998 Bailey was crying and had said: “I did it, I did it. I went too far.”
But he explains: “That was a very drunken evening. I remember exactly what I said.
“I said, ‘The police said I did it, I did it, I did it, I went too far’.”
Other alleged admissions are blamed by Bailey on his “dark sense of humour”.
He adds that he feels sorry for Sophie’s family, saying: “I’m entirely sympathetic to them.
“I had nothing to do with the murder, I can’t convince them, and it’s a tragedy.”
Returning to his “office” in the pub, Bailey is currently hawking his memoirs to publishers and preparing for an online poetry reading next week.
He is a man who appears to relish dealing with the publicity that surrounds his infamy. But is he a murderer?
Perrin landlady Caroline says: “You can see he likes attention.
“If he did it, he would have put his foot in it by now. I don’t think he did it, not at all.”
Source: The Sun