It was a verdict of sorts. One from on high. That at least was what many in Ireland, and in particular West Cork, were thinking after Ian Bailey, who was the chief suspect for the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, died last week.
Bailey, a British journalist, suffered a fatal heart attack in Bantry just days shy of his 67th birthday.
But he lived many years more than Sophie Toscan du Plantier, who was murdered on December 23rd, 1996 at the age of 39.
Mr. Bailey was known to have a heart condition and had suffered a couple of heart attacks prior to the fatal one.
In Ireland he was a free man. In France it would have been otherwise. He was convicted by a French court for the murder of Ms. Toscan du Plantier.
Instead of a French prison, however, Bailey could be found selling pizza and his poetry at a stall in Schull in West Cork.
As the Irish Times reported: "Born in Manchester, England, Mr. Bailey worked as a journalist with an agency in Gloucester before moving to Ireland and settling in west Co Cork in 1991. He contributed as a freelance reporter to several newspapers.
"He reported on the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier for a number of outlets after her badly beaten body was found on the lane leading to her holiday home at Toormore near Schull on December 23rd, 1996.
"However, just over a month later, in February 1997, Mr Bailey was arrested over the murder and questioned by detectives at Bandon Garda station before being released without charge. In January 1998, he was arrested for a second time and again questioned about the killing. He was again released without charge and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
"In 2001, a solicitor in the DPP’s office, Robert Sheehan, carried out a review of the file and concluded there was not sufficient evidence to merit a prosecution against Mr. Bailey. He later brought a libel action against several newspapers over their coverage of the murder, but he lost on the substantive issue when Judge Patrick Moran ruled against him at Cork Circuit Court.
"Mr. Bailey in 2014 brought a High Court action against the State for wrongful arrest, claiming that gardaí had tried to frame him for the killing, but he also lost that action.
"In 2019, Mr. Bailey was convicted in absentia in Paris of the voluntary homicide of Ms Toscan du Plantier under French law, which allows suspects to be tried for crimes against French citizens abroad. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail and the French authorities sought to have him extradited on a European Arrest Warrant. However, the High Court in Dublin refused to allow his extradition.
"The ruling effectively meant that Mr Bailey – while he could travel freely within the Republic – could not travel abroad as he risked being arrested and extradited to France to serve the sentence. Mr. Bailey repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier and said after suffering a heart attack last year that a Garda cold-case review team would clear his name."
Mr. Bailey repeatedly declared his innocence, but few in Ireland accepted his pleas. The belief in his guilt was reinforced by the fact that in 2001 he was convicted of assault in Skibbereen District Court. And public frustration was compounded by the mishandling of some crucial evidence by gardai back in 1996.
Despite his protestations, it would seem unlikely that the Garda cold case team will clear Mr. Bailey's name anytime soon; if ever.