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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bailey libel action collapses

The Ian Bailey libel action against five newspaper groups has ended suddenly. It seems that the eight year action, which Mr Bailey took when the newspapers suggested he may have been considered a suspect in the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, was settled out of court yesterday.

The newspapers' defence was always that they had not said he was the murderer of Ms du Plantier, but that he was considered a suspect by the Gardai. Bailey sought to argue that they had attempted to pin the blame for the murder upon him.

But following the sudden end of the action yesterday, when the newspapers agreed to pay some of Mr Bailey's costs from a previous action which he lost in the Circuit Court and waived the costs they themselves had been awarded, the allegation that Mr Bailey was a reasonable suspect in the case, for which no one has ever been charged, remains standing.

Cutting through the jargon for a moment, it seems that either Mr Bailey murdered Ms du Plantier or he did not. If he did, then the correct forum for these debates is in the criminal court, not in a long-running libel action. If he did not, then he has been tried in the court of public opinion.

Either way, the call from the newspapers to reform the libel laws is correct. But they should have added that a full review of the competence of the investigating Gardai in this murder case is also necessary.

It is now over a decade since Ms du Plantier's death. The fact that no one has been charged and tried for her murder is yet another indictment of the Gardai. A woman died in hugely dubious circumstances. Ten years on, her family still do not have the facts of her death.

That should not be lost in the legal to-ing and fro-ing between a ruined former hack with a penchant for spousal abuse and the red-tops that fingered him as a likely murderer without his having been convicted of the offence.

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