The Irish Mail on Sunday
My daughters were thrilled when I finished with Ian Bailey
JULES THOMAS SPEAKS TO MoS
IT IS one of the most anticipated documentaries in years, but one of its key players admits she probably can’t bear to watch it. Film director Jim Sheridan’s five-part look into the unsolved murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier premiers on Sky Crime tonight but Jules Thomas, the ex-partner of former prime suspect Ian Bailey, says the pain of watching it may be too much.
She also says she broke up with Bailey earlier this year partly because her daughters refused to visit with her grandchildren while he was still living in the house.
‘I don’t know yet if I will watch it,’ she tells the Irish Mail on Sunday in the idyllic gardens she has created at her home in Schull, only a few kilometres away from the scene of the murder which still haunts West Cork.
‘I probably won’t watch because I know it will upset me so much. I want to avoid that because I can’t take any more upset.’
It emerged this weekend that the family of Du Plantier has written to Sky requesting that all interviews with her family be removed from the series. The family was apparently unhappy with the way the fivepart series portrayed Bailey as a victim in the saga.
Ms Thomas, who confirmed to the MoS earlier this year that she had split from Bailey, also admitted she was unhappy with the film as it is expected to show an image of her face after being attacked by Bailey in 1996. The assault resulted in her being hospitalised.
‘For a while he seemed to be in disbelief when I finally told him it was over’
‘It’s going to be showing my face bashed up by Ian. I said [to Jim], “Please make it very quick, will you? Don’t let it be a lingering shot”.’
She says she made this request not to spare her pain but so that viewers would not see the attack as proof of Ian Bailey’s guilt over Du Plantier’s murder.
‘That’s why I didn’t want it used. Not for me, for him, because of the false conclusions that could be drawn, connecting him with Sophie’s death.’
Ms Thomas says she asked Sheridan whether it was really necessary to include the photograph. He is said to have replied that by not including it, the French would claim he was biased.
‘That’s why it had to be used,’ she says.
French television producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 39, was bludgeoned to death in the drive of her
West Cork holiday home two days before Christmas in 1996.
The murder has become one of this country’s most infamous crimes, spawning books, films, an internationally acclaimed series of podcasts and an upcoming Netflix documentary.
Ms Thomas, who is in her early 70s, was already in a relationship with former journalist Ian Bailey, 64, when he initially covered Du Plantier’s murder for several newspapers. He later became the prime suspect.
He has always denied the killing and was never charged in Ireland, although he was found guilty of the murder in absentia in France in 2019.
This week, Ms Thomas who is an accomplished landscape painter and gardener, elaborated on her reasons for finally ending the at-times violently abusive relationship.
‘Whilst Ian was here, I couldn’t see my three daughters and grandchildren. They refused to visit because they didn’t want to meet him. My daughters were absolutely thrilled when I finished with Ian.
‘For a while he seemed to be still in disbelief when I finally told him, “That’s it, I want to get on with my own life”. I want nothing more to do with him, I just can’t handle the stress, I’ve been praying that he will get
fixed up in his own place soon,’ she says.
The Welsh-born artist has lived in West Cork for 50 years having purchased her cottage with money from her ‘immensely wealthy grandfather’. She has asked Bailey to vacate the home as soon as possible. Ms Thomas believes Bailey has spent ‘the past few months looking in vain for somewhere to live’. She says he still ‘comes and goes’, staying in her house, but they are not on speaking terms.
‘I couldn’t kick him out whilst he had nowhere else to go. But there are signs he is trying to find somewhere and he has moved carloads of stuff out,’ she says, adding that she has considered helping to fund a caravan for him after his efforts to rent accommodation around West Cork came to nothing.
She has given him until July to move out, the month her daughter Virginia will marry her fiancé Killian in the grounds of her cottage. Speaking to the MoS two months ago, she confirmed that she had ended their 30-year relationship. In the exclusive interview she explained how she had ‘put up with him for far too long’.
After 25 years, she said was sick and tired of ‘all that stuff in print, the press attention, the photographers, everything’.
She said she felt compelled to stay by his side for years as ‘it would have looked like he did it’ if she had abandoned Bailey.
Last weekend, Bailey was reportedly staying in a B&B in the nearby village of Ballydehob, while Virginia, Killian and their six-year-old son spent the weekend at Thomas’s cottage.
She explained the family reunion was only possible ‘in Bailey’s absence’. With him gone, she is now looking forward to visits, too, from her eldest daughter Saffron, who has two children, and youngest daughter Fenella.
‘There are signs he is trying to find a place... He has moved stuff out’
Despite their turbulent relationship, she says she ‘never had any doubt’ that Bailey was innocent of Du Plantier’s murder.
‘This Jim Sheridan documentary series is bound to throw new light on the case, I think it will be fair and not one-sided.
‘He is innocent of the murder. I have no doubt about that.
‘Neither of us were contacted for another documentary coming out
on Netflix; that’s a disgrace, and it will be biased and full of all that hearsay evidence from the French trial that the Irish Courts would never have allowed to be heard.’
Last year, the Irish High Court rejected a request for the third time for his extradition to France where he was sentenced to 25 years in jail. Ms Thomas told how Sheridan, a six-time Academy Award nominee who has worked on the five-part documentary series Murder At The Cottage for 12 years, spent months at a time in West Cork talking to herself, Bailey and others.
She says he told her he was astonished that Ian Bailey never mentioned to him that she was arrested twice by investigating gardaí, once in February 1997 and again in September 2000.
‘It was horrific, their interrogation, and unbelievable how Ian would not have said anything about my two arrests,’ she says.
‘But that’s so typical of him, he has to be the central character with no thought at all of what I was suffering.
‘I remember when the guards arrested me, I said to them, “I have a family to look after at home, you can’t just take me away”.’
Ms Thomas shows me around her renovated studio which commands dramatic views of Hungry Hill Mountain on the Beara Peninsula with a glimpse of Dunmanus Bay nestling to the left below.
A new floor has been put down and the studio walls display her evocative paintings of beautiful sunsets, regional landmarks and foaming West Cork coastal scenes as well as abstract works, all of which sell well.
Over the years, she has also specialised in large-scale murals for visitors and heritage centres, including those at Mizen Head, Killaloe, Co. Clare, and Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.
‘I’m a private person and I’d rather stay that way,’ she admits.
With her model-like slenderness, and deeply tanned skin from spending up to six hours a day working in her garden, Thomas blossoms with energy and enthusiasm, showing off a stunning tropical paradise she’s created around the two-storey home.
Around the luxuriant foliage, are her beloved hens – Cream Legbar, which lay blue eggs, French Marans and Black Rock, not easily stressed and renowned for hardiness, wander among a few colourful roosters searching for titbits.
More reminiscent of the tropics than windswept West Cork, Yukkas, palm trees, banana plants and Canariensis are among the exotic species she has nurtured, framing a pond of water lilies.
An open-fronted summer house sits before the greenery. Here, Ian Bailey spent hours composing poems which he would often perform in the pubs of Schull, sometimes finishing off by playing the bodhrán.
‘I look forward to having a martini here,’ Jules says, pointing at the carved sign on the porch, ‘Tropical Garden’. Ms Thomas tells of how her mother Beryl, still alive at the age of 103, also found inspiration and peace in West Cork in her small studio home about 250 metres away.
Ms Thomas’s psychiatrist father was a good friend of Welsh literary genius Dylan Thomas and her parents also got to know Brendan Behan through their circle of Bohemian friends while the famous Dublin novelist, poet and playwright was in London.
The arrival of her six-year-old grandson from the nearby beach with his parents brings a broad smile to her face.
The couple who live in Cork city are at the house to make final plans for their July wedding. They plan to light up the tropical garden and much of the catering will be done by Ms Thomas, who shyly admits she’s a good cook.
A shed, once used as a writing den by Ian Bailey, has been cleared out to house a fridge for drinks for the wedding.
Ms Thomas says her garden will make a fine wedding-day setting.
‘We have fire pits worked out and the place for the marquee and lights. Bob, the youngest of my three grandchildren, announced the engagement of his parents. He said, “My mummy and daddy are going to get married”, he’s quite the speechmaker already. I’m not sure if any family of mine will come from the UK yet, it’s difficult to plan travel because of the pandemic.
‘There’s nothing like a wedding to bring light and cheerfulness to a home. I want the day to go off perfectly.’
More than anything, she says she wants to stay stress-free.
‘I paint more, I garden more, I’ve got some nice supportive friends, I’m mentally strong and I have learnt how to get on with my own life.’
‘He is innocent of the murder. I have no doubt about that’