French fly in as Sophie probe steps up a gear
A team of French police officers and forensic specialists, who flew in yesterday to carry out their own inquiries into the death of French film producer, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, were last night plotting the way forward in their week-long investigation.
The three Paris-based detectives will interview up to 31 witnesses, who are regarded as vital to the French efforts to solve the murder.
The French forensic scientists are expected to examine around 200 exhibits, which have already been gathered by gardai.
The outcome of the two-pronged exercise will be crucial to further developments in the inquiries presided over by French magistrate, Judge Patrick Gachon.
After sorting out the witnesses in order of priority, the officers, who arrived at Cork Airport yesterday afternoon, will meet with gardai in Bandon this morning to agree on a programme for the week.
Ms Toscan du Plantier's body was discovered at the foot of a laneway leading to her holiday home at Toormore outside Schull in west Cork on December 23, 1996, hours before she was due to fly back to France for Christmas.
Ian Bailey, a self-confessed suspect, was arrested twice as part of a garda investigation into the killing, but was released without charge.
He is appealing a High Court extradition order to the Supreme Court, to face questioning about the death, after the French authorities issued a European arrest warrant for him in 2010.
Mr Bailey has vowed to fight the extradition order to the European Court of Justice, if necessary.
Two senior gardai, Chief Supt Tom Hayes, who is in charge of the Cork West division and Det Insp Joe Moore, will liaise with the French detective team about the interviews and statement reviews to be taken.
Det Insp Moore and liaison officer Eric Battesti, who is based at the French Embassy in London, were among those who met the group at the airport.
The French detectives will re-interview the bulk of the witnesses, who made sworn statements to gardai in 1996-98 as part of the original Irish murder investigation.
The majority of interviews are expected to take place in west Cork, but it is likely that French detectives will travel to Roscommon to interview Marie Farrell.
Ms Farrell originally told gardai she had seen a man at a bridge more than a mile from Ms Toscan du Plantier's holiday home and later pointed out Mr Bailey as the man she had seen. She later retracted the statement and alleged gardai had pressured her into making it.
The team also hope to gain access to copies of Mr Bailey's personal diaries.
The French investigation was launched three years ago after pressure from Ms Toscan du Plantier's family and friends.