Saturday 17 August 2019

Landmark ruling as Bailey faces extradition bid and €340k bill

Court in Paris to rule on damages for the family of Sophie, write Maeve Sheehan and Sarah Collins

Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Sophie Toscan du Plantier's home in West Cork
The place where Sophie was murdered in west Cork which is marked with a cross and floral tributes. Photo: Mark Condren

Maeve Sheehan and Sarah Collins

When the verdict came through at the Cour d'Assises last Friday, the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier clasped hands and embraced.

Ms Toscan du Plantier's extended family were there - her son, parents, brothers, aunt, uncle and her first husband. They were very happy with the verdict, which came in after a week-long trial in a small, stuffy courtroom in central Paris, near the recently scorched Notre-Dame cathedral: a 25-year prison sentence for the man found guilty of murdering the French film producer and a new warrant to be issued for his arrest.

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"She should be here now, walking free," said Ms Toscan du Plantier's aunt, Marie-Madeleine Opalka. "It's important for justice to be done."

Within minutes of that verdict, according to Ian Bailey who, since last Friday is a convicted murderer in France, the new arrest warrant had been dispatched electronically to the extradition section of the Department of Justice in Dublin. "It is my understanding the warrant came into the Irish State within minutes of the decision," Bailey said yesterday from his home on the Prairie in west Cork, a couple of miles from where Ms Toscan du Plantier was murdered in December 1996.

Read more here: Former DPP rejects French criticisms

Ian Bailey has firmly maintained his innocence throughout.

He spent Friday pottering about in the dappled sunshine, insisting he could not comment but unable to resist repeating his mantra, "I am staying calm in the eye of the storm", and more, to calling journalists.

"It could be a busy week," he said on the phone from a market in west Cork where the sunshine had turned to rain.

The conviction of Ian Bailey for murder should have provided closure for her family but it is only the beginning of another prolonged legal drama.

Ms Toscan du Plantier's body was found two days before Christmas in 1996, by a neighbour. Her body, dressed in nightclothes and boots, lay on a path outside her home in Toormore, Schull. There was a clump of hair in her hand, and hair and blood beneath her fingernails. Yet there was no forensic evidence. Ian Bailey - an English journalist who lived nearby with his partner Jules Thomas and the first journalist at the scene - emerged within weeks as the Garda's prime suspect. He was nominated as a suspect by a garda because of his clothes and allegedly strange behaviour. Witnesses claimed he told local people she had been murdered before it was widely known. His hands and face were scratched: he attributed these to cutting down a Christmas tree and killing turkeys, not the marks left by a victim who put up a fight. Bailey had no alibi: on the night Sophie was killed, he was at the pub with Jules, they went home. While she slept, he went out to his shed to write, alone.

Elsewhere in these pages, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, sets out in detail the consideration he gave to the evidence against Ian Bailey and why he refused to accept it as sufficient grounds to prosecute.

That the conviction was secured is down to Ms du Plantier's family, who have been campaigning for more than 22 years to find out the truth about her killing.

Read more here: 'There are people in this country who know it was not me' - Ian Bailey says he wants truth to come out in du Plantier murder

They persuaded the French authorities to set up their own criminal investigation.

The French twice tried to extradite Ian Bailey and failed each time, which was why the trial went ahead in his absence.

Evidence that was insufficient to charge Ian Bailey with murder in Ireland was found to be sufficient in France. Marie Farrell, the only witness to put Ian Bailey close to the scene of the murder on the night Ms Toscan du Plantier died, later withdrew her statements.

In Ireland she was a discredited witness, but French magistrates took her evidence into account to convict Bailey.

The prosecution also relied heavily on Bailey's "confessions", overheard by three separate witnesses, including then 14-year-old schoolboy Malachi Reed. Mr Reed - who did not give evidence but was represented in court last week by his mother, Amanda - said Ian Bailey had admitted to "smashing her f**king brains in with a rock" when driving him home on February 4, 1997. His mother was one of two witnesses who travelled from Ireland to testify against Bailey, of the 22 witnesses summoned.

Read more here: Ian Bailey faces new extradition bid after murder conviction

A theatrical and impassioned Maitre Dose, another of the family's lawyers, put it to the court that Mr Bailey's motives were "sexual", though there was no evidence of sexual assault. "Sophie Toscan du Plantier was everything that excited Ian Bailey," Maitre Dose said. "She was French, she was famous, she was an artist and she was the wife of one of the most famous film producers in France."

If Ian Bailey's information is correct, he expects the warrant for his arrest will be activated by the courts possibly as early as Tuesday. Once activated, he will be arrested and brought before the High Court where he would be hopeful of being released on bail pending a full extradition hearing.

Legal sources expect the previous Supreme Court ruling that he should not be extradited will stand. Maitre Pettiti, one of three lawyers for the family, said French lawyers are sceptical too about Ireland's willingness to extradite Ian Bailey.

Despite Bailey's "understanding" that the warrant has landed, most commentators believe the process may take months. The extradition hearing is unlikely to be the only piece of litigation he will face.

On Tuesday, the same court that found Bailey guilty of murder will rule on what damages Ms Toscan du Plantier's family will be entitled to. Under French law, the family are entitled to damages for the murder of a loved one.

Alain Spilliaert, a long-standing legal advisor to the family, submitted pleadings to the three magistrates after Friday's verdict.

He submitted that Ms Toscan du Plantier's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, should be awarded €75,000 each; her son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud, should be awarded damages of €70,000; and her two brothers, €60,000 each. The family has already been awarded €115,000 award in a civil courts in France in 2013, and the French authorities are now entitled to claim this money back.

Alain Spilliaert, who confirmed the figures for the Sunday Independent, expects the sums outlined will be upheld by the court. The award is "symbolic", he says.

Ian Bailey, as his solicitor Frank Buttimer, has pointed out, has no money as he has been unable to gain any meaningful employment since he became linked with this brutal murder.

Nevertheless, Ms Toscan du Plantier's family, and indeed the French state, may register judgments against him in the Irish courts.

Sunday Independent

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