Bailey's partner and her children agree to French police interviews
Some 35 witnesses will talk to French investigators probing the 1996 murder of Sophie du Plantier, write Maeve Sheehan and Ralph Riegel
IAN Bailey's partner and her two daughters have agreed to be interviewed by French police investigating the murder of French film producer, Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
Jules Thomas, an artist, and her daughters are among 35 witnesses who will speak to French investigators due in west Cork at the end of next month, according to informed sources. Marie Farrell, a former shopkeeper who implicated Mr Bailey, 53, in the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier and then retracted her evidence, has also agreed to be interviewed.
It is understood the French have not approached Ian Bailey, the former journalist who was the gardai's prime suspect for the French woman's murder. He is currently appealing his extradition to Paris, where he is wanted in connection with the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier, 39, outside her holiday home in Toormore in December 1996.
Ms Thomas and Ms Farrell both testified at a libel action taken by Mr Bailey against several newspapers in 2003. Ms Thomas's evidence supported Mr Bailey's account that he was at home on the night of the murder and when he first learnt of the French woman's death. Ms Thomas's daughters, who were children at the time, have also agreed to give their recollections of what happened to French investigators.
Ms Farrell will tell investigators why she retracted evidence against Ian Bailey. She was the newspapers' star witness against Mr Bailey, claiming she saw him on the night of the murder and that he later threatened her.
Two years later she withdrew her statements, claiming she was coerced into making them by gardai. Her sensational retraction prompted an internal garda inquiry into the investigation of the French film producer's murder. The report was never published and Mr Bailey was refused access to it by the High Court.
Some of France's top detectives and forensic scientists will fly into Ireland late next month in a bid to prepare for a Paris trial next year over Ms Toscan du Plantier's murder. The French team is acting on the instructions of Paris-based magistrate Patrick Gachon. They will spend almost 10 days in Ireland, the bulk of them in Schull in west Cork.
Bantry gardai under Chief Superintendent Tom Hayes and Detective Inspector Joe Moore are liaising with the French team about the interviews and statement reviews to be taken in late September.
The French will interview more than 30 witnesses but for the first time they will also be given direct access to evidential exhibits in the garda murder file. Forensic scientists are hoping that cutting-edge DNA and forensic analysis techniques may yield clues as to the identity of du Plantier's brutal killer.
Ms Toscan du Plantier's battered body was discovered at the bottom of a laneway leading to her isolated home on December 23, 1996. Despite one of the biggest garda murder investigations ever mounted, no one has ever been charged in relation to the killing.
Former British freelance journalist Mr Bailey was twice arrested and questioned by gardai in 1997 and 1998. He was released without charge on both occasions.
Mr Bailey has consistently protested his innocence and has claimed that efforts were made to frame him for the crime.
Last year, the French issued a European Arrest Warrant for Mr Bailey after a fresh probe was launched at the instigation of Ms Toscan du Plantier's family and friends. Mr Bailey is now appealing his extradition order to the Supreme Court with the case likely to be heard later this year.
He has vowed to fight the case to the European Court if necessary. His legal team have claimed that, even if he wins his extradition battle, a Paris trial is still likely to be staged in his absence. Mr Bailey has insisted he cannot receive a fair hearing in France.
The French team will now interview the bulk of the witnesses who gave evidence at a Cork Circuit Civil Court libel action taken by Mr Bailey in December 2003 against eight Irish and British newspapers.
A total of 20 witnesses were called by the newspapers to testify -- and the hearing offered a dramatic insight into events in west Cork in December 1996.
Critically, the French will also interview a number of witnesses who did not form part of the libel trial. Key witnesses will be asked to attend any Paris trial and will have their travel and accommodation costs covered.
The French cannot compel any witness to travel and cannot force people to undertake interviews in Ireland against their will. Gardai are expected to be present for most of the voluntary interviews. The French can, however, introduce sworn statements into the trial even if the individual who made them is not in court.
Potential witnesses and Schull locals remained tightlipped last week about the dramatic developments in the case.
Shirley Foster -- Ms Du Plantier's next-door neighbour and the person who discovered her body -- declined to comment to the Sunday Independent at her Toormore home.
Her partner Alfie Lyons said they were "very tired" of repeated media questions over the past 15 years.
Mr Lyons told the 2003 libel hearing he was "90pc certain" that he introduced Ian Bailey to Sophie -- though Mr Bailey has repeatedly insisted he never met the Frenchwoman.
"We have absolutely nothing to say. We know what is going on and we don't have anything to say. Over the past 15 years a lot of what has been said has been manipulated by the press," Mr Lyons said.
Other witnesses, including James Camier, Josephine Hellen and Peter Bielecki, were unavailable for comment.
One witness who has agreed to speak with the French team, Provision photographer Michael McSweeney, said he had "absolutely no problem" with the request.
Mr McSweeney also gave evidence at the libel hearing eight years ago.
"I was contacted by Bantry gardai about it and I have no difficulty in meeting them [French detectives] if they want," he said.