French authorities are willing to offer gardaí full access to their eight-year probe into the murder of French film executive Sophie Toscan du Plantier to support the cold-case review launched by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
The revelation came as gardaí confirmed that all aspects of the original 1996-98 investigation from witness statements to forensics will now be pored over by specialist officers.
Officers are hopeful a series of new forensic tests coupled with a renewed focus on the crucial timeline surrounding the killing might yield a critical breakthrough after almost three decades.
The review is expected to take up to a year to complete.
Detectives have yet to decide if they require full access to the French file which, while largely based on the original garda investigation, includes statements from some French witnesses that were not available to the original Irish investigation.
French police considered some of these statements to be crucial.
One French source said “every assistance possible” would be extended to Ireland.
However, a formal request is likely to be required – as forces in both countries are determined to avoid issues with the cold-case review over Ireland’s repeated refusal of French extradition requests for British-born journalist and poet Ian Bailey (65).
Ms Toscan du Plantier (39), a mother of one, was found battered to death on the laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull, Co Cork, on December 23, 1996.
She had been attacked and killed after apparently trying to flee from an assailant who confronted her at her holiday cottage just hours before she was due to return to France.
The Frenchwoman was horrifically beaten with a stone and a concrete block.
No one has ever been charged with the killing in Ireland despite one of the biggest murder investigations in State history.
Now, the French believe aspects of the investigation conducted by Paris-based magistrates Patrick Gachon and Nathalie Dutartre may help gardaí.
When it became apparent in 2007 that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had ruled out any charge in Ireland due to a lack of evidence, Sophie’s family and the Association for the truth about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH) campaigned successfully for a French investigation.
That involved the exhumation of Sophie’s body in France, fresh forensic tests, the re-interviewing of the original garda case witnesses in Ireland by an elite French police team and the emergence of several key French witnesses.
It eventually led to Mr Bailey, a Manchester-born freelance journalist, being tried and convicted in absentia of Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s murder by a Paris court in May 2019.
Mr Bailey – who was sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined €225,000 – described the French prosecution as “a show trial” and “a mockery of justice”.
The new cold-case review by gardaí has been welcomed both by Sophie’s son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, and by Mr Bailey.
Mr Baudey-Vignaud admitted his family now had “big expectations” for the cold-case examination.
Mr Bailey – who wrote to Commissioner Harris last year looking for such a cold-case review – said he believed it would finally exonerate him.