Thursday 23 November 2017

Standoff looms over du Plantier murder case

Victim's family warns of 'fiasco' if State fails to cooperate in probe

Sophie Toscan Du Plantier.
Sophie Toscan Du Plantier.
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A FRENCH pressure group which includes members of the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier has warned of a "judicial fiasco" if the Irish State does not cooperate with France's investigation into her murder.

A major diplomatic stand-off looms after Sophie's uncle, Jean-Pierre Gazeau, travelled to Ireland yesterday to deliver a hard-hitting statement to the Irish authorities, warning "enough is enough".

In a message read out on his behalf, Mr Gazeau said: "We, the family, have been suffering a double penalty for almost 18 years. Sophie was murdered and we. . . are mute in Ireland."

"We never had the opportunity to make our case and now we are the victims of serious malfunctions from police and judicial Irish systems."

The Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH) warned at a press conference in Cork last night that the treatment of Sophie's family by various Irish agencies over the past 17 years was tantamount to "a judicial fiasco ... a denial of justice".

ASSOPH official, Jean Antoine Bloc-Daude, warned that any suspension of mutual assistance by Ireland would be "a scandal ... catastrophe".

The group warned it was crucial that Ireland continue to support the six-year investigation by Paris-based Magistrate Patrick Gachon.

Mr Gazeau pleaded for Ireland to help Magistrate Gachon finish his probe and deliver justice for the family.

The warning came as Sophie's parents, 88-year-old Georges and 86-year-old Marguerite Bouniol, were forced to cancel a trip to west Cork with members of ASSOPH, which was set up to campaign for justice for the 39-year-old mother-of-one slain in west Cork 17 years ago.

Their trip was cancelled due to the poor health of Mrs Bouniol.

Mr Bloc-Daude warned that Sophie's heartbroken parents now fear that they may never see the truth emerge over what happened to their daughter.

"They have suffered terribly for 17 years. Marguerite's health is so bad that they couldn't make it to Ireland."

"They are very sad, very upset. They do not understand why it took so long with so many good news coming at the beginning from the garda."

The warning came as the Government was threatened with a High Court injunction by British-born freelance journalist, Ian Bailey, 56, unless the Department of Justice agrees to immediately suspend all co-operation with the French. Such a move would critically prevent French detectives from travelling to Ireland to conclude their probe for Magistrate Gachon.

Mr Bailey was twice arrested in 1997 and 1998 in connection with the investigation.

He was released without charge on both occasions and has consistently maintained his innocence.

He claimed that attempts were made to frame him for the crime. Two years ago, he won a Supreme Court battle against the French authorities who wanted to extradite him to Paris.

Now, Mr Bailey's legal team has claimed the ongoing assistance to the French is jeopardising actions here, including the probe set up under Supreme Court judge Nial Fennelly into the secret taping of telephone calls at garda stations.

A total of 133 calls relating to the du Plantier murder probe were taped at Bandon Garda Station from 1997, including calls between gardai, journalists and witnesses.

The Gachon probe was launched by the French following lobbying by ASSOPH after no one was ever charged in Ireland in relation to the brutal December 23, 1996 killing of the French film executive and socialite.

Sophie's uncle, Jean Pierre Gazeau, said he hoped the Irish authorities will sanction an elite four-strong Paris detective team working for Magistrate Gachon to travel to Ireland from next week.

The elite Paris detective unit have been waiting for permission from the Irish authorities to travel to west Cork since earlier this year.

Their work is critical to allow Magistrate Gachon to conclude his probe and make recommendations about a possible French prosecution.

Sophie's badly beaten body was found at the foot of the laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull in west Cork.

Despite one of the biggest murder investigations in Irish history, no one was ever charged in relation to the killing.

Magistrate Gachon will conclude his report later this year and is widely expected to recommend a Paris-based trial.

Mr Bailey and his partner, Welsh artist Jules Thomas, are now suing the State for wrongful arrest.

Mr Bailey has also lodged a complaint with the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) over his treatment by officers in west Cork.

Mr Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, wrote to the Government on April 24 demanding that it cease all assistance to the French investigation.

It subsequently emerged that the Department of Justice was taking legal advice over its position in relation to the mutual assistance agreement with the French.

Mr Bailey's legal team has argued that continued Government co-operation with the French represents an abuse of process.

However, the Government now faces the prospect of legal action by the French at European level if it suspends mutual assistance over the du Plantier probe.

Paris detectives now also want access to the garda station recordings, which only came to light last year.

Sunday Independent

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