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Du Plantier murder case exposes a bizarre 'liaison'

THE key witness who has sensationally withdrawn her testimony in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation alleges that gardai pressured her into giving false testimony about the prime suspect after they discovered that she had "a brief relationship" which she insists was "of a non-intimate nature". Gardai have lashed out at this allegation, pointing to the fact that

MAEVE SHEEHAN and

RALPH REIGEL

THE key witness who has sensationally withdrawn her testimony in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation alleges that gardai pressured her into giving false testimony about the prime suspect after they discovered that she had "a brief relationship" which she insists was "of a non-intimate nature". Gardai have lashed out at this allegation, pointing to the fact that it was Marie Farrell who contacted them first.

In the latest twist in the saga, sources close to Mrs Farrell claimed that gardai used the information about her personal life as leverage to encourage her to implicate Ian Bailey, the prime suspect for the French woman's murder. Garda sources scathingly dismissed Mrs Farrell's allegations as "rubbish".

The shop owner from West Cork withdrew her claims against Mr Bailey last week saying that she was forced by the gardai to make them up. Lawyers for Mr Bailey wrote to the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner last week seeking an inquiry.

The Commissioner has appointed a senior garda to examine her claims.

Mrs Farrell first claimed that she saw Mr Bailey near the entrance to the French woman's home in Toormore, Schull, while driving past Kealfada Bridge at 3am on the night she was killed.

A source close to Mrs Farrell revealed this weekend that she was travelling in a car with a man who was not her husband on the night of Ms du Plantier's murder. At the time, she was engaged in a brief "non-sexual liaison" with the man, the source said. Once gardai discovered this fact, the source alleged, they used it to "pressure" her.

Mrs Farrell's testimony was crucial to the Garda investigation, as it is the only account that placed the prime suspect near the murder scene. She later swore her account under oath during Bailey's failed libel actions against a number of newspapers last year. However, last week she changed her story, claiming that while she did see a man at the bridge, it was not Mr Bailey.

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The source alleged: "There is no doubt in the world that the gardai used the fact (that she was in company of another man) as leverage against her."

Mrs Farrell's credibility was in tatters this weekend. She faces a possible criminal investigation for perjuring herself.

Garda sources pointed out that Mrs Farrell first contacted the gardai, not the other way around, by making anonymous telephone calls about what she saw on the night of the murder. She first claimed to have seen a man at the bridge on the night of the murder. Gardai say they traced one of the telephone calls to Mrs Farrell's house and when challenged she admitted to being the caller.

Gardai also claimed that Mrs Farrell had given them conflicting testimony in the past. They said that she first told gardai she was in the company of a man who was not her husband on the night in question. But when asked for his name, she gave two different accounts of whom she was with. Detectives were unable to verify her account. Nevertheless, her testimony became one of the key planks in the case against Ian Bailey.

Speculation as to the timing of Mrs Farrell's retraction was rife in West Cork this weekend. A source close to Mrs Farrell dismissed as nonsense speculation that a minor motoring offence involving her son had in some way fuelled her decision to retract her testimony. The source said that Mrs Farrell's son is due in Kenmare District Court on a minor parking charge, and said it was absolute nonsense to link his misdemeanour to Mrs Farrell's decision to withdraw her testimony against Mr Bailey.

Her solicitor, Donal Daly, said this weekend that Mrs Farrell contacted Ian Bailey's solicitor Frank Buttimer several weeks ago and offered a series of statements retracting her evidence. "As a result, Frank thought it wise for her to seek legal advice of a criminal kind. She contacted me last week. I listened to her. I told her of the potential implications of what she was doing. I explained what the possible consequences were and I advised her accordingly,"he said.

The family of the murdered French woman are set to press ahead with a civil action against Mr Bailey, despite the sensational statement retraction of Marie Farrell.

Sophie's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, supported by Sophie's son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignard, are planning to sue Ian Bailey under Section 48 of the CivilLiability Act.

The elderly couple - who will travel to Goleen next December to mark the ninth anniversary of their daughter's death - are suing Ian Bailey for damages.

Legal experts admitted that their case - and the High Court appeal by Ian Bailey against his Cork Circuit Civil Court libel defeat to six Irish and British newspapers including the Sunday Independent - will be complicated by the stunning claims of Marie Farrell- and the probe subsequently set up into her claims by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy.


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