French police return to quiz 30 in Sophie case
FRENCH police investigating the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier will return to west Cork within days to interview more than 30 people as they prepare to wrap up a five-year probe into the film producer's death.
Detectives will conduct a final round of interviews over several days in various locations around Ireland, before reporting back to the magistrate who is leading the French investigation, Patrick Gachon.
The murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier has become one of Ireland's most notorious unsolved murders. She was found beaten to death outside her holiday home in Schull in December 1996.
Gardai identified a local journalist, Ian Bailey, as the prime suspect but he was never charged.
The French eventually took up the murder investigation after a campaign by her family, who feared the Irish authorities would never find her killer.
The French continue to consider Ian Bailey as their prime suspect, despite concerns raised by Irish prosecutors that he was wrongly targeted by gardai.
Authorities there are now expected to decide in the new year whether the former journalist, Mr Bailey, should be tried in his absence in France for the crime.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that Mr Bailey should not be extradited to France.
He has already said that he expects the French authorities will want to try him in his absence.
Alain Spilleart, a lawyer for Ms Toscan du Plantier's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, confirmed this weekend that the investigation was entering its final phase.
He told the Sunday Independent: "It is the wish of the French inquiry judge to speed up the process and terminate (the investigation) by the end of this year and to make a decision early next year (on a trial)."
He said that of the 30 witnesses who will be interviewed by detectives, there were a "couple" of significant new witnesses but the majority had been interviewed by French authorities before.
It is understood that the French are particularly keen to re-interview Marie Farrell, a shopkeeper who became a key witness when she claimed she saw Mr Bailey near the scene of the crime on the night of Ms Toscan du Plantier's murder.
She later retracted her statement, claiming she had been put under pressure to implicate him.
Ms Farrell was among 35 witnesses interviewed two years ago when the French investigative team first came to Ireland to build a case against Mr Bailey.
The French sought his extradition last year for questioning about the murder, but the Supreme Court rejected their request.
Days before the extradition hearing, his lawyers were dramatically given internal documents from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which raised concerns that the original murder investigation was prejudiced and flawed.
Mr Bailey is now suing the State for wrongful arrest.
The State has failed to comply with High Court orders to release more internal documents relating to the garda investigation, missing three deadlines.
His legal team have now lodged a motion asking for the State's defence to be struck out for failing to meet the discovery deadlines.