Wednesday 22 November 2017

French detectives arrive today for Sophie Toscan du Plantier investigation

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A HIGH-powered team of French detectives and forensic scientists arrive will arrive in Cork later today to continue their investigation into the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

The detectives will interview 31 witnesses and be given direct access to evidential material in the Garda murder file, including Sophie's blood-stained clothing.

The French gained access to the case pathology files over two years ago, but direct access to Garda evidence is seen as central to their ability to mount a trial over the mother-of-one's death.

The scientists are hoping that hi-tech new DNA and forensic analysis techniques will yield clues as to the identity of the brutal killer.

The bulk of their interviews will replicate those conducted by gardai in 1996-98 as part of their investigation into the murder, but will also include new material which came to light over the past decade.

The French authorities launched their investigation three years ago. In April 2010, they lodged a European Arrest Warrant in a bid to have Ian Bailey (53), a freelance reporter living in west Cork, extradited to Paris to stand trial in relation to the killing.

He is a self-confessed suspect in the case and was twice arrested by gardai -- in 1997 and 1998 -- for questioning as part of the investigation. He was released without charge on both occasions.

Mr Bailey is contesting the French extradition bid, and is now appealing to the Supreme Court.

Sophie's battered and bloodied body was discovered at the bottom of a laneway leading to her isolated home at Toormore, outside Schull, in West Cork on December 23, 1996. She had been due to fly back to Paris that day to spend Christmas with her family and then join her husband for a trip to West Africa.

Gardai later determined that Sophie tried to flee from her attacker, but was caught at the bottom of the laneway when her clothing snagged on a barbed wire fence.

She died from horrific head injuries, possibly inflicted with a hatchet or a concrete breeze-block. The murder weapon has never been recovered.

Despite one of the biggest murder investigations ever mounted by gardai, no one has ever been charged in relation to the killing.

Much of what is now known about the murder investigation came from Mr Bailey's decision to take a libel action in Cork Circuit Civil Court in December 2003 against a number of Irish and British newspapers over their coverage of the case. Mr Bailey lost the bulk of those actions, and a High Court appeal against those judgements was later settled without compensation being paid.

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