Sophie Toscan du Plantier: The Nature of Memory
I no longer think that Eddie Cassidy's witness statements are significant in this case, but it is striking that most people find it next to impossible to recall what time something happened.
The case of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier revolves around hundreds of witness statements taken over many months. Some people were interviewed several times, and sometimes these interviews were held years apart. Memory is a fragile thing. Police interviews are stressful, formal occasions. At the time, Irish police did not tape record interviews, so nearly all of them only exist on paper as typed up by the police and signed by each witness.
I contend that no weight at all can be attached to precise timings of events. Humans are not good at remembering time, unless there is some specific corroboration, some wild event that caused them to look for the time and note it down. This happens only rarely. More than this, I contend that even the precise date of a memory is suspect.
We cannot trust anyone who commits themselves too confidently to a precise time. What were you doing at 11:53am 23 days ago from today? I have absolutely no idea what I was doing, what the date would have been, or what day of the week it would have been. I would have to sit down and think about it, with my diary to hand.
This is the topic of this article: the idea of human memory being utterly flawed.
I have selected one person, Eddie Cassidy, to demonstrate these thoughts. Eddie Cassidy is a journalist, with a long career, and well-used to dealing with the specifics of time and date. Unlike another journalist you might be thinking of, he has an irrefutable alibi for the murder as he lived and worked in Cork City for the Irish Examiner. Eddie Cassidy’s recollection of times on the 23rd December 1996 are varied. As a journalist, having times and dates to hand is an important part of the job.
It should also be noted that Eddie Cassidy’s first sworn police statement 99A, taken 12 February 1997, was taken 2 days after Ian Bailey was first arrested for the murder. It is inconceivable therefore that Eddie Cassidy did not realise the immense importance of his recollections as to time. One of the key strands of the investigation remains when and how Ian Bailey discovered that the body had been found, that the death was not an accident, and that the victim was a French female, not merely a foreign tourist.
Remember that my purpose in drawing out these examples is absolutely not to cast aspersions towards Eddie Cassidy. On the contrary, it is to show that Eddie Cassidy’s changing memories of time are absolutely normal for an innocent person. Cassidy could have had no involvement whatsoever in the murder, and yet every time he talks to police, over a period of a few months, his memories of what happened and when, have changed. He even denies calling someone whom he called multiple times in the space of a few minutes.
Eddie Cassidy states in his statement (99A) taken on 12 February 1997 "I can remember the 23rd of December 1996, the day the murder was discovered in Dunmanus West, Toormore, Co. Cork. Sometime around 12.20 p.m. I contacted Bantry Garda Station to speak with Superintendent J. P. Twomey about there being an incident in Schull which I had heard through a reliable source of mine. I had been told that there had been a serious or suspicious incident."
In fact, phone records show this phone call occurred at 11:53 and not 12:20. It proves Eddie Cassidy knew about the murder at 11:53.
The Garda only knew about a body at 10:15 and it would not have been apparent that it was a murder until they arrived on scene at 10:38. However, it would have been obvious to Alfie Lyons and Shirley Foster that Sophie had been murdered shortly after 10:00 when Shirley discovered the body. The local rumour mill begins immediately.
Anyway, Superintendent Twomey was not present at Bantry, so Cassidy instead tried Schull Garda Station. The time of this call (from phone records) was 13:25. Duration 4m 19s.
Twomey had left the murder scene at 12:50 knowing that the victim was a French female.
Eddie Cassidy stated to police that he spoke to a Goleen auctioneer, Dermot Sheehan, prior to phoning Ian Bailey at 13:40. This is not correct. Phone records show that this call occurred at 14:21, which is after Cassidy called Bailey.
Eddie Cassidy states that at 12:50 he phoned Tom McSweeney of RTE to tell him about the murder, but McSweeney was already aware of it and was working on a story. In fact, phone records state this call was at 13:32. Cassidy calls again for a longer chat one minute later at 13:33.
Eddie Cassidy denied speaking to journalist Ann Mooney at all on 23rd December. Phone records show that he called her no fewer than three times: at 13:49, 13:50, and 13:51. Ann Mooney remembers the calls.
Eddie Cassidy made a number of different statements to police over a period of several months. In statement 99D, undated, he states that the call to Bantry Garda station looking for Twomey was made at 13:20. This is the call which phone records show was made at 11:53, and the same call which Cassidy referred to in his statement 99A (of 12 February 1997) as being at 12:20. 99D is believed to have been made subsequent to statement 99C which was made on 22nd April 1997.