Saturday 18 November 2017

French want elite Paris detectives to be allowed visit Ireland 'in weeks'

Ian Bailey arriving at the Four Courts
Ian Bailey arriving at the Four Courts
Sophie Toscan Du Plantier

Dearbhail McDonald and Ralph Riegel

AN ELITE team of French homicide detectives want to travel to Ireland "within weeks" to conclude a seven-year Paris-based investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

The team, operating under Magistrate Patrick Gachon, want Ireland to immediately recommence full co-operation with the French authorities following the rejection by a High Court jury of the Garda conspiracy claims levelled by Ian Bailey (57).

It is expected that the Gachon report will recommend a Paris-based prosecution, now likely to be staged in 2016.

The Irish Independent has learned that if Ireland does not renew full co-operation, the French will consider a formal complaint to EuroJust, the agency that oversees judicial co-operation between European countries.

Such co-operation was suspended last May given the impending High Court case.

Mr Bailey, a Manchester-born freelance journalist, was twice arrested in connection with the death of Ms du Plantier (39) at Toormore outside Schull in west Cork on December 23 1996.

Mr Bailey was released without charge on both occasions and, while protesting his innocence, also claimed attempts were made to "stitch (him) up" for the crime.

The High Court jury took just two hours to reject the garda conspiracy claims levelled by Mr Bailey following a five-month trial.

Now, the French want Ireland to resume "immediate and rigorous co-operation" with Mr Gachon. "Co-operation is very important between Ireland and France. We want to see every possible assistance provided for Magistrate Gachon so he can conclude his report," warned Alain Spilliaert, solicitor for Sophie's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol.

Mr Spilliaert warned it has been "very difficult" for Sophie's elderly parents for the past 19 years with time now a crucial factor in the case.

The self-styled Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, made up of Sophie's French friends and family, are also demanding that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald act to support Mr Gachon.

"There has been co-operation since 2009 and, now that the High Court case is finished, we want to see that co-operation resumed.

"The judge (Mr Gachon) needs to finish his work as quickly as possible," a spokesperson said.

The Paris team have had full access to the garda murder file for seven years and have re-interviewed all the major garda witnesses.

They had hoped to visit Ireland last June but this was postponed when Ireland suspended co-operation.

Once the French detectives conclude their work in Ireland, Mr Gachon will finish his report and submit it to Paris prosecutors.

They will then submit it to the special Court d'Accusation which will decide whether a full Paris-based prosecution should take place.

Mr Bailey's legal team have repeatedly warned that the French are determined to try him in absentia.

A European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by the French for Mr Bailey in 2010 remains in force.

Ireland's Supreme Court refused to extradite Mr Bailey to France in 2012.

Irish Independent

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