French hopeful for clues as they visit murder site
Witnesses to be interviewed again over 1996 killing
FRENCH criminal experts investigating the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier yesterday retraced her steps as she ran from her killer.
An investigation team of three Paris detectives and two forensic scientists arrived from France on Monday evening and will spend up to two weeks interviewing witnesses and examining exhibits.
Speaking yesterday, they said they were "hopeful" that they would uncover new evidence in the case and began by visiting the site of her death.
The scientists plan to take samples from the more relevant of the 200 pieces of evidence that were collected from the crime scene at the time, and to carry out new tests on them in France.
However, they began yesterday by travelling by minibus to her holiday home at Toormore outside Schull in west Cork, where they examined the spot where her body was found on December 23, 1996.
They then walked to the house on foot, circled it, and surveyed the spot where her body was found from outside the house.
After retracing the route through the undergrowth as she had desperately raced from her killer, they paused at the memorial to Sophie that had been erected by her family.
The team members were filmed by two French TV crews during the 90 minutes that they spent at the site.
Today, they will begin taking statements from witnesses who are regarded as crucial to a possible trial in Paris over the filmmaker's death.
They include the bulk of the witnesses who made sworn statements to gardai in 1996-98 as part of the original Irish murder investigation.
The interviews will be conducted in the presence of gardai and will be recorded in writing.
A liaison from the French embassy in London, Eric Battesti, confirmed yesterday that they planned to carry out the new forensic tests when they return to Paris.
He was speaking following a briefing of the French investigators by Superintendent Tom Hayes at Bandon garda station in west Cork yesterday.
Mr Battesti said that, with regard to the witnesses, they would be asking them to "specify some points because there are some contradictions between some statements".
It is unclear how long the French team's work will take, but the first stage is likely to take several months.
"We are seeking to combine our efforts to uncover some new clues and . . . perhaps to uncover new evidence," said Mr Battesti.
"It's not a competition between a French system and an Irish system . . . it's about two teams playing together with the same purpose," said Mr Battesti, who thanked the gardai for their co-operation.
Sophie's body was discovered at the foot of a laneway leading to her holiday home at Toormore outside Schull in west Cork on December 23, 1996, hours before she was due to fly back to France for Christmas.
Ian Bailey, a self-confessed suspect, was arrested twice as part of a garda investigation into the killing, but was released without charge.