Tuesday 17 September 2019

High-profile killing remains unsolved over a decade later

Marguerite and Georges Bouniol, parents of Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Marguerite and Georges Bouniol, parents of Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

THE garda investigation into the December 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier now appears to have effectively come to an end.

Although the official line is that the file on the case will never be closed, gardai have admitted there are "no criminal proceedings in train or contemplated."

Several case reviews over the past 12 years have thrown up nothing new to advance the investigation.

The only hope of a breakthrough at this stage is that some significant new information will come to light.

A prime suspect, freelance journalist Ian Bailey, was identified at an early stages of the case by the investigation team.

He had a history of violence against his partner, artist Jules Thomas, and around the time of the murder had scratches on his hands and forehead.

Gardai were also suspicious after he wrote a number of articles about the killing.

Mr Bailey was arrested and questioned twice. Each time he denied any involvement.

Gardai did not find any forensic evidence linking him to the murder.

A key witness, shopkeeper Marie Farrell, provided statements saying she saw Mr Bailey at a bridge close to Sophie's home on the night of the killing.

However, she later withdrew those statements, claiming she had been put under pressure to make them by gardai.

THE new French-led investigation into Sophie's death was prompted by intense lobbying by her relatives and friends.

It received a major boost last Friday when Irish authorities finally agreed to share the murder file with French magistrate Patrick Gachon.

Under French law, prosecuting magistrates are allowed to investigate crimes committed abroad involving French citizens -- providing they receive a formal complaint.

As far back as 1997, Paris magistrate Brigitte Pellegrini was assigned to investigate the death of the French mother-of-one following an action brought by Sophie's film producer husband Daniel and her parents -- against "persons unknown."

Ms Pellegrini's inquiries went nowhere after several applications to the Irish authorities seeking information on the case were unsuccessful.

The French investigation gained a new impetus in recent months when the original autopsy report was finally released to Sophie's family in France.

Sophie's remains were exhumed from a graveyard in the south of France earlier this month.

New DNA tests -- unavailable at the time of her murder -- are now being conducted.

Sophie's relatives have appealed to Irish witnesses to come forward to cooperate with Mr Gachon's inquiry.

If sufficient evidence is gathered, Mr Gachon could seek the extradition of a suspect using a European arrest warrant.

THE relatives of Sophie Toscan du Plantier have never given up hope that someone will be brought to justice for her murder.

Her parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, continue to make their annual pilgrimage to her West Cork holiday home to mark the anniversary of her death. Sophie's brother Bertrand told the Irish Independent: "We keep going back to Ireland to Sophie's house to find her spirit."

Her husband, film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, died in 2003 after remarrying. He was a close personal friend of former French President Jacques Chirac, who took an interest in the case.

She had a son, Pierre-Louis Baudey, from her first marriage to Pierre Baudey.

Last year, Sophie's uncle, scientist Jean-Pierre Gazeau and her cousin, Francis Lefevre, set up the Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH), which is also lobbying for the harmonisation of EU laws to allow victims' families abroad greater access to information.

It has attracted the support of prominent figures in French politics and entertainment including a former justice minister and the president of the Cannes Film Festival.

MANCHESTER-BORN Ian Bailey is now suing the State for damages, claiming he was wrongly arrested for Sophie's murder.

He was twice arrested and questioned by gardai, but was never charged.

Mr Bailey continues to reside near Schull in West Cork, where he has lived since the early 1990s, when he ditched a career as a journalist to "reinvent" himself as a poet and a gardener.

He has always maintained he had nothing to do with Sophie's death and took a libel action in 2003 against eight newspapers he claimed defamed him in their coverage of the murder. He lost all bar two of the actions, and several witnesses at the trial gave evidence that Mr Bailey either admitted to the murder or strongly gave the impression he was responsible.

He contested these claims.

Mr Bailey says there was a sinister plot to frame him and asserts that he was "set-up" by gardai.

He has offered to meet Sophie's relatives -- or their legal representatives -- to offer whatever information he can give to them.

However, he is unwilling to travel to France for these meetings and refuses to deal directly with the French magistrate leading the new investigation.

SHOPKEEPER Marie Farrell was the only witness who provided statements to gardai contradicting Ian Bailey's assertion that he did not leave his property on the night that Sophie was murdered.

Ms Farrell signed statements saying she saw Mr Bailey at Kealfadda Bridge, not far from Sophie's home at Toormore, in the early hours of December 23, 1996.

She said at the time she only came forward to gardai reluctantly as she was driving around with an old boyfriend that night and did not want her husband to know.

During the 2003 libel trial, she reasserted her claim that she saw Mr Bailey at the bridge on the night Sophie died.

However, just over two years later she withdrew these statements -- saying she was put under pressure by a number of gardai to make them.

She also said she deeply regretted what she had done to Ian Bailey.

Her u-turn resulted in a major internal garda inquiry into the matter.

Now living in the midlands, she has never revealed who was in the car with her that night and has twice misled gardai as to who it was.

On two separate occasions, she supplied officers with the names of two different men from her native Longford, who she said she was with.

However, garda inquiries established that neither man was with her.

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