France asks Cork witnesses to testify over Sophie death
French prosecutors are believed to have summoned an estimated 30 Irish witnesses to a Paris court to testify against the man they accuse of murdering Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The summonses were delivered last Friday afternoon to local people in west Cork who provided witness statements to the original investigation into the French film producer's murder.
Ms Du Plantier was beaten to death outside her holiday home in Schull in December 1996, but no one was charged with the killing. Prosecutors in France are pressing ahead on Monday next week with the long-planned trial of journalist Ian Bailey, who has repeatedly denied involvement in the crime.
The witnesses summoned include former neighbours of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork along with Mr Bailey's long-term partner, Jules Thomas, and her daughters. Witnesses are also understood to include retired gardai who investigated the murder. Witnesses cannot be compelled to attend and it is not clear how many will testify at the proceedings in Paris.
The issuing of the summonses coincides with a visit by Ms Toscan du Plantier's parents and her son to west Cork to attend a memorial mass at noon today.
The son of the murdered Frenchwoman has appealed to all witnesses to come to France to testify against Mr Bailey. Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, who travelled to west Cork with his uncle, will deliver an impassioned plea at a mass in Goleen today at noon.
"My purpose for coming is to involve the Irish people in this trial in France, and to invite all the people who live in this country to join me in fighting for the truth," he told the Sunday Independent yesterday.
Ms Du Plantier's family is expected to seek the assistance of the local community in pursuing justice for her murder. Mr Bailey's trial for the alleged murder of Ms Du Plantier opens in Paris on Monday, May 27. Two requests from the French authorities to extradite him from Ireland were rejected by the Irish courts and the trial will proceed in his absence.
His solicitor, Frank Buttimer, confirmed this weekend that Mr Bailey will not attend the "unlawful and unjust" proceedings.
Evidence will be heard in Mr Bailey's absence and his fate will be decided before three magistrates.
If he is found guilty in his absence, he will likely face another request for extradition from the French authorities.
Mr Bailey, who lives outside Schull, lost a French Supreme Court bid to stop the trial last year.
He was twice arrested by gardai for questioning about the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier at her holiday home in Toormore, but was released without charge on each occasion.
He subsequently lost several libel proceedings against a number of newspapers, and a costly High Court action against the State for his wrongful arrest.
Mr Buttimer said this weekend: "My client will not be going to France for any legal proceedings in relation to this matter.
"The procedure is un- lawful and unjust and contravenes his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights."