Thursday 23 February 2017

Irish witnesses may give video evidence if Sophie trial held

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A TEAM of French detectives probing the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier are considering allowing potential witnesses to give evidence via video link if a trial is held in Paris.

The move would mean that those who were reluctant to travel to France for a trial could give evidence from Ireland.

The detectives have been ordered to Ireland by Paris-based magistrate Patrick Gachon.

Mr Gachon is leading a French probe into the murder, which was launched in 2008 following pressure from Sophie's family and friends.

Sophie's battered body was discovered on December 23, 1996, at the foot of a laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull, Co Cork.

The 39-year-old had apparently tried to flee her attacker, who caught up with her and then bludgeoned her to death.

Despite one of the biggest murder probes in Irish history, no one has ever been charged with the killing.

The French team will arrive in Cork next month and negotiations are under way to arrange interviews with 31 key witnesses in relation to the murder of the mother of one.

Among the individuals expected to meet the French team are Shirley Foster, Sophie's neighbour and the woman who discovered her body; Marie Farrell, a former Schull shopkeeper who gave dramatic sworn evidence that she later withdrew; and Jules Thomas, the partner of former reporter and current law student Ian Bailey (53).

Statements

The witnesses previously gave sworn statements to gardai between 1996 and 1998 and some of them also gave evidence during a high-profile libel action taken by Mr Bailey against eight Irish and British newspapers in 2003.

Mr Bailey took the action over the papers' coverage of the murder case and claimed he had been effectively branded as the murderer.

Mr Bailey -- who was twice arrested by gardai but released without charge on both occasions -- has consistently protested his innocence.

He is now fighting an extradition order to France and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter in October or November.

Mr Bailey has said that, if necessary, he would challenge the matter in the European Court and his legal team predicted that even if he was not extradited, the trial would proceed in Paris in his absence.

A large number of witnesses have indicated they would be willing to attend a trial if their expenses were covered.

However, three are reluctant to travel because of health, age and business concerns.

One witness has already suggested she would prefer to use video evidence to participate in the Paris trial.

Irish Independent

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