Sophie's family hope new garda probe will crack case
THE family of slain French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39) said they are "hopeful" of significant developments in the case next year thanks to a fresh garda probe.
The claim came as the French family paid tribute to the "skill and professionalism" of a garda 'cold-case' murder unit which is now liaising with a French team who have been probing the unsolved 1996 murder for the past four years.
The head of the Garda Serious Crime Review Team, Det Supt Christy Mangan, met last month with representatives of Sophie's family at a private briefing in Dublin.
The meeting included Alain Spilliaert, the Paris-based lawyer for Sophie's parents, and their Irish solicitor, James MacGuill.
Mr Spilliaert told the Irish Independent that the family was very pleased with the garda cold-case team's work.
"We are hopeful that there will be significant developments in the case next year," he said.
Mr Spilliaert said the family was keen to ensure maximum co-operation between the French team under Magistrate Patrick Gachon and Det Supt Mangan's unit.
"The family want to see all information shared. Time is very important for them," he said.
Sophie's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, will travel to west Cork early in January to mark the 16th anniversary of their daughter's killing.
Last September, they formally requested the garda cold-case team to conduct a fresh review.
The request was also backed by ATMSTP, the group set up by Sophie's uncle, Jean Pierre Gazeau, to campaign for action over the murder. The proposed review will mark the fourth time the massive case file into the mother-of-one's brutal killing has been re-examined.
Sophie was found bludgeoned to death on the laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore, outside Schull in west Cork, just hours before she was due to fly back to Paris.
Her body was found just two days before Christmas.
Magistrate Patrick Gachon launched a French probe into the killing almost four years ago.
He has since secured full access to the garda murder file.
His investigation has included the exhumation of Sophie's body, re-interviewing all the garda witnesses and seeking the extradition of former freelance journalist, Ian Bailey (54).
Last March, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the French extradition bid, as Mr Bailey, who has repeatedly protested his innocence, claimed that attempts had been made to frame him.
Paris-based detectives were scheduled to travel to west Cork before Christmas to conduct a final series of interviews with witnesses but this was dramatically postponed.
Mr Gachon was then to conclude his inquiry by Christmas and present his report and conclusions early in the new year.
Mr Spilliaert told the Irish Independent that, even if Mr Gachon recommended a prosecution, no such trial was now likely to take place before 2014.
Mr Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, has consistently claimed that the French will attempt to try his client in absentia despite the stark revelations during the Supreme Court extradition process.
The Supreme Court heard that a 2001 briefing memo by a Director of Public Prosecutions official was highly critical of the garda investigation and said there was no evidence against Mr Bailey. It also described the garda probe as "flawed and prejudiced".
Mr Bailey and his partner, Jules Thomas, are now suing the State for wrongful arrest.
He has also levelled complaints about his treatment with the garda ombudsman.