Saturday 16 December 2017

Doubt cast on witness credibility in Sophie case

Secret DPP report on murder probe is released after 10 years


A 50-page review of the evidence in the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier is believed to cast doubt on the credibility of several witnesses who gave statements relating to the garda's prime suspect, Ian Bailey.

The report, prepared by the the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) 10 years ago, was highly critical of the garda investigation into the French film producer's death and concluded that there was no credible evidence to prefer a prosecution against Mr Bailey. It is understood that the review questions the credibility of several witness statements given to gardai. It devotes a whole section to Marie Farrell, once a star witness, who later retracted evidence that she saw Mr Bailey on the night of the murder.

She was the only witness who put Mr Bailey at the scene of the crime. She later claimed she had been put under pressure by gardai.

The document was kept secret until last week when the Attorney-General made the decision to order the release of a dossier of internal files to Mr Bailey.

The Attorney-General's dramatic intervention was the latest twist in what has become one of the most infamous unsolved murder investigations in recent times.

Ms Toscan Du Plantier was murdered at her west Cork holiday home in December 1996. Mr Bailey, a former journalist who lives in Schull, was twice arrested but the DPP found no evidence to charge him.

The French subsequently appointed a magistrate to investigate Ms Toscan Du Plantier's death under French law.

The review was released to Mr Bailey five days before a Supreme Court hearing to appeal his extradition to France for questioning in connection with her murder.

A dossier of "internal communications" within the DPP's office was released to lawyers for Mr Bailey and to the French authorities last Monday. The 50-page review of evidence was released to them on Wednesday through Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Both French and Irish legal sources have questioned why the crucial documents were not released during Mr Bailey's extradition hearing in March when the High Court ruled that he should be extradited.

A senior French source close to the investigation asked if the documents were released in the interests of natural justice, why were they disclosed "just five days before" the Supreme Court appeal?

"It is as if the Irish State shot himself in the foot," he said.

Another source said: "The family are totally upset with the way the thing has been handled now by the State here when this could have been brought up in the High Court."

One source suggested that the Attorney General, Marie Whelan, may have become aware of the documents in the course of monitoring Mr Bailey's extradition appeal proceedings in the Supreme Court. As Ms Whelan was appointed Attorney General to the new government in March, she would only recently have had access to internal state papers relating to the Bailey case.

The appeal hearing was due to open tomorrow but Mr Bailey's legal team sought an adjournment on Thursday on foot of what they claimed was "breathtaking wrongdoing" disclosed in the documents.

The State's senior counsel told the Supreme Court that the material had not been "withheld".

He said there might be issues whereby something might have been done earlier, but he said the DPP had decided in the last two weeks to release certain material.

While the French authorities have said they will continue to investigate Mr Bailey in connection with the murder, Eric Battesti, a home office attache at the French embassy in London, was quoted yesterday as saying it remained to be seen whether the allegations would have any impact on efforts to extradite him.

The French investigation into Mr Bailey will continue. Some 30 witnesses have given statements to the French police investigating the case.

The results of sophisticated forensic tests on clothes and other items taken from the crime scene are due back in December. They include samples of hair and nail scrapings and items belonging to Mr Bailey, who is fighting extradition to be questioned about the murder in France.

Mr Bailey's legal team claims the release of the documents has cast doubts over the extradition proceedings.

Martin Giblin, barrister for Mr Bailey, told the Supreme Court last week that the new information was provided by the DPP and the Department of Justice on the orders of the Attorney General. "The extent of the wrongdoing revealed by state officers is breathtaking, even by the lowest standards encountered by the court in past cases," he said.

Had the information been available during the High Court extradition hearing last March, Mr Bailey would have been able to make a much stronger submission in relation to garda misbehaviour.

Mr Bailey has long claimed that he was wrongly targeted in the garda investigation. Garda headquarters have conducted several reviews of the investigation, one in 2000 under the then chief superintendent, Austen McNally.

A subsequent internal garda inquiry was launched after Marie Farrell withdrew her statements in 2005. The findings were never published. Ms Farrell, who admitted to lying under oath during Mr Bailey's libel action against several newspapers, was not prosecuted. No disciplinary action was taken against gardai.

Sunday Independent

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