Monday 19 February 2018

Film director is key Sophie du Plantier witness, say French authorities

‘A MAN, A WRITER, LIVING IN IRELAND’: Guy Girard claimed Sophie Toscan du Plantier mentioned Ian Bailey to him. Photo: Billy MacGill
‘A MAN, A WRITER, LIVING IN IRELAND’: Guy Girard claimed Sophie Toscan du Plantier mentioned Ian Bailey to him. Photo: Billy MacGill
Guy Girard's police statement
MURDER SCENE: Sophie Toscan Du Plantier’s home in Schull, west Cork

MAEVE SHEEHAN

A FILM director who claimed Sophie Toscan du Plantier spoke about Ian Bailey a month before her murder is being claimed as a key witness in the French authorities' investigation of her murder, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

Guy Girard told gardai that Sophie "mentioned" Ian Bailey's name in the months before she returned to her holiday home in West Cork in December 1996, where she was bludgeoned to death.

However, Irish prosecutors have dismissed his evidence as "hearsay".

Mr Bailey insists that he did not know Sophie Toscan du Plantier, alleges he was set up by gardai as the prime suspect and is suing the State for wrongful arrest. But the French authorities – who are pursuing their own investigation after the failure of gardai to find her killer – claims Mr Girard's statement connects him to Sophie.

The French continue to regard Ian Bailey as a prime suspect for the murder, despite mounting disquiet in Irish legal government circles about the original Garda investigation, which is to be examined by a Government-appointed commission of inquiry.

In his statement – seen by the Sunday Independent – Mr Girard said that he first met Ms du Plantier in France six months before her death, when they worked together on a film project.

He said that in November 1996, he discussed with Ms du Plantier including a story about a man "who killed his wife by hitting her with an iron" in a project he was working on.

"We discussed for a long time the theme of human tragedy and during this time Sophie mentioned the name of Eoin Bailey," he said.

"I am sure of this. I thought Sophie was speaking of Edwyn Bally, a French film director, and I indicated this. But Sophie corrected me with a smile saying I could not know who she was talking about because Bailey was a man, a writer, living in Ireland. I am not sure what context Sophie mentioned Bailey, but I got the impression that he (Bailey) was working also on the theme of human tragedy."

He continued: "We did not speak any more about Bailey at this time. I am sure I heard Sophie mention the name Eoin Bailey in the office but I do not know in what context."

He claimed that in December of that year, as Ms du Plantier was preparing to leave for West Cork, he was "sure that she again mentioned the name Bailey. Again, I do not remember in what context but I am certain she spoke his name".

He added: "After about five or six weeks, I heard the name Eoin Bailey in the context of the investigation into Sophie's death and I immediately made the connection," he said.

Mr Girard did not come forward until more than two years later in March 1999, when he flew to Ireland to make a statement at Bantry garda station.

A lawyer for Ms du Plantier's family last week described Mr Girard's testimony as "very important circumstantial evidence" in establishing a connection between the victim and Ian Bailey. However, Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions took a different view, saying it "contained hearsay evidence only".

A friend of Mr Girard's, Vincent Roget, a film producer who had worked with Ms Du Plantier for two years before her death, also spoke to gardai in 1997 but he made no mention of Ian – or Eoin – Bailey.

A producer for French television, he was working with Ms du Plantier before she went to West Cork in December 1996. In his statement, Mr Roget discussed hearing of her lover, Bruto Carbonnet, a French artist, after Ms Du Plantier's death. He said a friend told him that "he had heard probably from Sophie that when the relationship broke up Bruno . . . cut up some of his painting and put them in an envelope and sent them to Sophie".

"She never discussed any fears she had with me. I do not believe she was fearful of anybody," he said. He also claimed that Sophie told Guy Girard that Mr Carbonnet was "a psychopath who followed me", although he said he was not accusing Bruno of doing anything to Sophie.

Mr Carbonnet was ruled out as a suspect after gardai confirmed he was at an exhibition in France at the time of Ms Du Plantier's murder.

He was interviewed by police in France, and his statement recounting their affair was published two years ago.

In it, he spoke of their "secret and discreet" two-year affair, which ended in 1993. She finished the relationship "without any warning", he said, and "this end was very difficult for me".

However, in a second police statement, which has not previously been published, Mr Carbonnet described an "odd meeting" between Ms du Plantier and a "man from Marseilles" in Schull.

Mr Carbonnet recalled: "One day, when on a visit to west Cork, we went to a restaurant in Goleen . . . There was a Frenchman at the neighbouring table and somebody called him the man from Marseilles. I cannot remember his name." He said he had a Marseilles accent and was a "Mediterranean type", with an athletic body and between 40 to 50 years of age.

He was dressed "like a gentleman farmer", he said.

"He came over to our table and introduced himself. He talked to us and asked where Sophie lived. When she told him he said he had tried to buy the same house. He asked me was I a hunting man and I said no."

He then said to Carbonnet: "But you're interested in women?"

According to Carbonnet, Sophie didn't like this remark. The man from Marseilles went on to talk about fishing and good bathing spots, and Sophie tried to find out where his house was.

"The meeting was odd," concluded Carbonnet.

A fisherman, originally from Marseilles, but who lived in West Cork, took his own life three months after Ms du Plantier's murder. It is understood that this man did not feature as a suspect in the garda's original investigation file.

Sunday Independent

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