Saturday 22 October 2016

Strangers seen before murder of Sophie

Ralph Riegel and Dearbhail McDonald

Published 24/12/2015 | 02:30

AN EIGHT-year French investigation into the brutal murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier has uncovered indications at least two strangers were spotted in the area in the 72 hours before the killing.

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The revelation came as Sophie's heartbroken family yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of her death.

Her family commemorated the 39-year-old with a ceremony in France, though locals prayed for Sophie at Goleen Mass at the simple Celtic Cross which marks the spot where she was discovered.

The Paris-based mother-of-one was found shortly before 10am on December 23, 1996, lying on a laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore near Schull, west Cork. She had been bludgeoned to death - apparently as she attempted to flee from someone at her holiday home.

A Garda murder investigation, one of the biggest in the history of the State, failed to result in anyone being charged with the crime.

British freelance journalist Ian Bailey (58) was twice arrested by detectives in 1997 and 1998 for questioning in relation to the matter. The Manchester-born writer, who vehemently protested his innocence, was released without charge on both occasions.

The French - at the behest of Sophie's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol - later launched their own investigation eight years ago under Paris-based Magistrate Patrick Gachon. His report is now being finalised with the judge having visited west Cork in November to conduct final interviews.

The Irish Independent has now learned French detectives spoke to witnesses in Cork who provided information about at least two strangers in Schull and Goleen between December 21 and 23 1996.

One was seen by a businessman sitting in car which had been rented by Sophie at Cork Airport. The other, described as foreign in appearance, was seen walking around Schull in the 24 hours before Sophie's death.

Neither of the two matched the description of Mr Bailey.

Irish Independent

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