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Monday 21 October 2019

French elite give backing to Sophie inquiry

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

Pressure from an elite group in French society helped trigger the new investigation into the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Leading figures from the French political and entertainment worlds have thrown their weight behind the fresh investigation into the murder of the filmmaker.

The Irish Independent has learned that a 'who's who' of the upper echelons of French society have given their backing to an association formed to discover the truth about Sophie's unsolved murder, in west Cork, 12 years ago.

They include Gilles Jacob, the president of the Cannes Film Festival, Andre Rousselet, the founder of French satellite television giant Canal +, and Jerome Clement, president of the Arte television network.

Other backers of the campaign include former French justice minister Jacques Toubon and former Parisian mayor Benoite Taffin.

Sophie's uncle, Jean-Pierre Gazeau, explained that many high-profile figures exerted pressure to get the case "considered at a high political level" just before the Garda decision to hand over evidence to French authorities.

The association's hopes of a prosecution over the brutal killing of the 39-year-old now rest in France, after the Director of Public Prosecutions revealed last Friday that no charges were being contemplated in Ireland.

Following consultation between Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Attorney General Paul Gallagher, the Paris-based magistrate leading the French probe, Patrick Gachon, will now be given access to the murder file.

However, the magistrate has no power to interview people in Ireland and witnesses will have to travel to France to make statements if they wish to cooperate.

Senior gardai have privately questioned what the new French-led probe can achieve, given that it has no jurisdiction in Ireland and all leads in the case appeared to have dried up.

The involvement of high-profile figures in supporting the Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier may explain the vigour displayed by French authorities in pursuing a case which many observers believe may never be solved.

Sophie's late husband, film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, was a close friend of former French president Jacques Chirac, who has also maintained an interest.

Mr Gachon ordered the exhumation of Sophie's remains earlier this month in the south of France.

Advanced DNA tests on the remains -- unavailable at the time of her murder -- are ongoing.

Relatives have yet to learn whether any new evidence has been found and have not been told when Sophie's remains will be re-interred.

The mother-of-one was bludgeoned to death outside her holiday home near Schull in December 1996.

No one has ever been charged with her murder.

English-born journalist Ian Bailey (51) was twice arrested and questioned over her death, but was released without charge on both occasions. He has always maintained his innocence.

Assistance

Mr Bailey has offered to meet with Sophie's relatives or their representatives and says he has information which would be "of some assistance" to them.

Mr Gazeau had been due to write to Mr Bailey to explore the possibility of such a meeting.

However, he is now insisting the only way Mr Bailey can help is by meeting the magistrate. He also appealed for any witnesses in the case to come forward and contact Mr Gachon.

"So far, only a small number of witnesses have come forward," said Mr Gazeau. "I want to repeat our call for witnesses to contact the magistrate.

"It is absolutely crucial for the investigation in France that they come forward. They need not worry about the cost of travelling to France. Their expenses will be covered by the French justice system."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, in Paris for an EU summit, said last night the Irish Government would cooperate "in every way we can" with the investigation.

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