Tuesday 21 January 2020

French authorities to consider allowing elderly or infirm Irish witnesses in Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder trial via video-link

Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Getty Images
Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Getty Images
Sophie’s parents Georges and Marguerite Bouniol. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Ian Bailey

Ralph Riegel and Catherine Devine

FRENCH authorities will consider allowing elderly or infirm Irish witnesses to offer evidence in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder trial via video-link.

Prosecutors want the Paris Criminal Court trial, expected in mid 2017, to involve as many witnesses as possible from the original Garda investigation into Sophie’s murder on December 23 1996.

The revelation came as it emerged the exhaustive eight year French investigation has found no new forensic, DNA or physical evidence over the murder.

A case to be made by the Paris prosecutor will entirely revolve around circumstantial evidence - and the testimonies of Irish witnesses.

Almost 40 witnesses will be invited to offer evidence at the Paris trial including Sophie’s Toormore neighbours, retired Garda officers and both Goleen and Schull locals.

The trial was signalled after French authorities sanctioned a prosecution following an eight year investigation by Magistrates Patrick Gachon and Nathalie Turquey.

The French investigation was launched following pressure from Sophie’s family after the Irish authorities admitted no prosecution was ever likely to take place here over the murder of the mother of one.

Sophie was found battered to death on the laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull on December 23 1996.

She had been scheduled to fly back to France later that day to spend Christmas with her family.

No-one has ever been charged with the killing in Ireland.

Under French law, the trial can take place in Paris even if British freelance journalist, Ian Bailey (59), is not present.

Mr Bailey, who has vehemently protested his innocence in relation to the matter, successfully fought extradition to France in 2012.

He was twice arrested by Gardaí in 1997 and 1998 for questioning in relation to the matter but was released without charge on both occasions.

Mr Bailey has claimed that “sinister” attempts were made to “stitch me up” for the crime.

His legal team said they will fight any fresh extradition bid from Paris – and dismissed the prosecution in absentia as both “an outrage” and “a show trial.”

Mr Bailey has now pleaded with the Irish authorities and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to mount a prosecution here over the killing of the French mother-of-one so he can finally clear his name.

“I pray to God that they will allow it (an Irish prosecution)," he told independent.ie.

"I want to clear my name once and for all. I want my life back. This cannot go on."

"No human being should have to live with this constantly hanging over them."

"I had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this."

"I want the DPP to contact the French and examine whatever evidence they claim they have found."

"I believe the only chance I have of a fair trial is right here in Ireland. I certainly don't believe that I will get it there (Paris)."

The Manchester-born journalist and poet said that his life had been rendered "a nightmare" by rumour and innuendo about the case over the past 20 years.

He told RTE Radio's Drivetime this evening that he is a “prisoner in Ireland” as he can’t leave the country under his previous European arrest warrant.

“I could cross borders. I could try and get a plane but they know my name this is one of the reasons I couldn’t even travel to my mother’s funeral… if I was to leave Ireland into any other jurisdiction I’d be arrested under that warrant so I’m a prisoner in Ireland.”

Bailey said he “never considered himself a suspect” and there’s no truth to the numerous statements against him.

“I never considered myself to be a suspect in any true meaning of the word because I had nothing to do with this. There was no foundation to the allegations.

“I assume that [French Authorities] must have [new evidence] because they’ve been over here twice and they seem to be indicating that under their system of criminal justice procedure they have enough evidence to charge me. I can only assume there’s something in that file that gives credibility to false allegations.”

In his various legal actions since 2003, the University College Cork (UCC) graduate repeatedly claimed that being wrongly linked to the case had left him as "a pariah" within the west Cork community.

His partner, Welsh artist Jules Thomas, has backed Mr Bailey's DPP move having made a similar request five years ago.

She described what the couple have endured over the past two decades as "absolutely appalling".

Mr Bailey has now written to the DPP to ask for an Irish prosecution despite the fact the DPP ruled out such a move in 2001 due to lack of evidence.

Irish Independent sources indicated that such a prosecution is highly unlikely given the various Circuit, High and Supreme Court actions surrounding the issue since 2003.

Under French law, Mr Bailey can be prosecuted even if he is not present at the Paris proceedings.

If he refuses to acknowledge or co-operate with the trial process, it is unlikely that a defence will be mounted for him.

French law also allows for witness statements to be introduced during the trial even if they are not present.

Statements from witnesses who are now deceased can also be introduced in evidence.

However, the Paris authorities are keen for all invited witnesses to attend and will cover all travel and subsistence costs for Irish-based witnesses to travel to France.

In cases where witnesses are willing to testify but are unable to travel, evidence via video-link will now be considered by the Paris prosecutor.

The eight year investigation by the two French magistrates included re-interviewing all the original Garda murder file witnesses, tracing new witnesses, exhuming Sophie’s body and conducting a battery of forensic tests.

All the witnesses re-interviewed were recorded by French detectives with video evidence options also available to the Paris prosecutor.

Sophie’s son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud (35), her family and the ASSOPH support association welcomed the impending French trial and

paid tribute to Magistrates Nathalie Turquey and Patrick Gachon for their work since 2008.

“It is very good news – it is news that we have waited a very long time for,” Mr Baudey-Vignaud said.

“It is news that we have waited almost 20 years for.”

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