Wednesday 22 November 2017

France will consider 'legal action' against Ireland if Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation is suspended

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan Du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier
MURDER SCENE: Sophie Toscan Du Plantier’s home in Schull, west Cork
Jules Thomas and partner Ian Bailey. (Photo: Collins Court).
Sophie Toscan Du Plantier
Victim: Sophie Toscan Du Plantier, who was bludgeoned to death in Schull, Co Cork in 1996
Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Ian Bailey (centre) and his partner Jules Thomas and solicitor Frank Buttimer
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

THE French authorities will consider legal action against Ireland if mutual assistance over the Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39) murder investigation is suspended.

The warning came as Sophie’s parents, Georges (88) and Marguerite Bouniol (86), had to cancel a trip to west Cork with members of the support organisation set up to campaign for justice for the mother-of-one slain in west Cork 17 years ago.

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

The self-styled Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH) warned at a special Cork press conference last night (Saturday) that it was crucial Ireland continue to support the six year investigation by Paris-based Magistrate Patrick Gachon.

In a hard-hitting message read out on her behalf by Sophie's uncle, Jean-Pierre Gazeau, Mrs Bouniol warned that "enough is enough."

"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," she said.

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

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

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."

ASSOPH warned 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."

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 investigation 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 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 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 they cease all assistance with 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.

“He (Mr Bailey) remains the subject of what I would consider to be an unlawful attempt to remove him from the jurisdiction by a foreign power. There are very, very serious questions to be answered here,” solicitor Frank Buttimer said.

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

The family and French authorities have insisted Ireland must continue to abide by mutual police assistance agreements which have allowed the French full access to the garda murder file.

French detectives have since re-interviewed all those questioned as part of the garda murder probe.

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

Magistrate Gachon is expected to complete his report over the summer and will then submit his recommendations to a Paris-based Chamber d’Accusations.

That court will decide if a prosecution is warranted in France.

Irish Independent

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