Sunday 20 May 2018

Ian Bailey to challenge Paris-based murder prosecution in European Court after losing French Supreme Court appeal

The freelance journalist had just a single avenue of appeal left to block French plans to stage an historic Paris trial over the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39) in west Cork in 1996

Ian Bailey (left) and Sophie Tuscan du Plantier
Ian Bailey (left) and Sophie Tuscan du Plantier
Ian Bailey’s trial will proceed
Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder...Undated handout photo of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, who was murdered in Ireland 14 years ago. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 24, 2010. Ian Bailey will appear at the High Court in Dublin today in connection with the death in west Cork of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 39. See PA story IRISH France. Photo credit should read: Handout/PA Wire ...A
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

BRITISH freelance journalist Ian Bailey (60) has confirmed he will take a European Court of Human Rights challenge after he lost an appeal to the French Supreme Court against a Paris-based murder prosecution.

The Manchester-born freelance journalist had just a single avenue of appeal left to block French plans to stage an historic Paris trial over the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39) in west Cork in 1996.

Mr Bailey had repeatedly warned that the French would attempt to try and convict him absentia for the brutal killing, having successfully fought an extradition bid by the French six years ago.

That trial is now expected to take place in early 2019.

The French film executive and mother of one was found battered to death on a laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull on December 23 1996.

No one was ever charged with her killing in Ireland.

A French-based investigation was launched 10 years ago when the Irish authorities admitted it was highly unlikely anyone would ever be charged here for the crime.

Mr Bailey confirmed he is now to take a European Court of Human Rights challenge to the French-based prosecution which, he said, was aimed at wrongly convicting an innocent man of the crime.

"I have been informed by my French lawyer, Dominique Tricaud, that I have failed in the French Supreme Court in my challenge of the decision to charge me with the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier 22 years ago," he said.

"Mr Tricaud said he was very surprised at that decision.

"I am less surprised although clearly disappointed that a prosecution repeatedly rejected by the Irish authorities could make muster in France.

"I am also angry that as part of the French investigation somebody here in Ireland in authority made the decision to not inform me that I had the right to participate in the French investigation.

"Where do I go from here?

"My French lawyers will in due course take my challenge to the false allegation that I am somehow unexplainedly connected with the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier to the European Court of Human Rights.

"Even if I am tried for murder in France and found guilty under their Napoleonic Code of law all they will have done is convict an innocent person and merely managed in France what the members of An Garda Siochana tried to and failed," Mr Bailey said.

No-one was ever been charged with Ms du Plantier's death in Ireland despite one of the biggest garda murder investigations in history.

Mr Bailey, who moved to Ireland in 1991, was twice arrested by gardaí for questioning.

He was released without charge on both occasions in 1997 and 1998.

Since then, Mr Bailey has insisted that "sinister attempts" were made to frame him for the crime.

He has vigorously protested his innocence and sued eight Irish and British newspapers for defamation in 2003 over their coverage of the murder.

The journalist has also sued the State for wrongful arrest though he lost that case and last month was informed he faced paying the costs for the action.

Earlier this year the Chamber d'Instruction in France rejected his appeal against being charged and prosecuted.

His challenge to the French Supreme Court was his last avenue of appeal in France which could have allowed the trial to be blocked.

“I believe this will all only end with my death,” he warned.

“Or, the second alternative is if the French convict me of murder in my absence at a Paris trial.”

Mr Bailey also said he discovered in February 2013 that a letter was on file in the Department of Justice which afforded him the opportunity to offer his evidence directly to the French magistrate and police.

However, he was never facilitated in telling his story directly to the French.

"There was one document in particular which jumped out at me when I went through it (the file)," he said.

"It was dated February 2013 where the French authorities had written to the Department of Justice informing them that I had the right of being interviewed by them and putting my side....the French authorities asked the Department to write to me to help set up this meeting. That letter was never written.

"Why wasn't I afforded my Constitutional right?"

The three judge 'Chamber d'Instruction' in Paris ruled that there were "sufficient grounds" for Mr Bailey (60) to face a prosecution in France.

The French failed in a 2012 bid to have Mr Bailey extradited with the Irish Supreme Court rejecting the application.

A fresh European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was issued two years ago but has never been triggered.

Mr Bailey's Irish solicitor, Frank Buttimer, said it was "farcical" what was happening in Paris.

He pointed out that the French authorities intend pursuing the prosecution despite the fact they are believed to have precisely the same information which the late Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Ireland, Eamon Barnes, rejected as grounds for any prosecution here.

Mr Buttimer described such evidence as "totally discredited."

"It will effectively be a show trial, if it ever happens," Mr Buttimer said.

"The evidence on which I believe it (the prosecution) intends to rely is no more than the evidence which was rejected 20 years ago by the late Mr Barnes.

"It also subsequently rejected repeatedly by the other two DPPs in this jurisdiction. Mr Barnes described it as 'the thoroughly flawed and prejudiced' evidence gathered by the Irish police."

French authorities launched an investigation under Paris-based Magistrate Patrick Gachon into Ms du Plantier’s death 10 years ago when the Irish authorities confirmed there was now little prospect of a prosecution here.

The French are confident that the majority of 40 Irish witnesses, the bulk of whom were interviewed as part of the original Garda murder probe, will agree to travel to Paris for the planned trial.

However, they cannot be compelled to attend.

Under France's Napoleonic Code, Mr Bailey can be tried in absentia.

The only requirement for such a homicide trial to be staged is that the deceased involved was a French national - it does not matter under French law where the alleged incident occurred.

Furthermore, French law allows for sworn witness statements to be entered into evidence even if the witness is not present in court.

A French judge is also allowed to permit sworn statements from witnesses who are now deceased.

Several of those interviewed in west Cork as part of the original Garda murder investigation have since died.

If Irish witnesses decline to travel to Paris for the hearing, their statements can still be offered in evidence.

The French received special permission from Ireland to allow an elite team of Paris detectives to visit west Cork and re-interview the original Garda murder file witnesses.

Those interviews were also video-recorded.

Full access was also given by Ireland to the forensic data obtained by gardaí in west Cork.

The French investigation involved the exhumation of Sophie's body, a battery of fresh forensic tests and re-interviewing all the original garda witnesses.

Sophie's killing now ranks as arguably Ireland's highest profile unsolved murder.

Sophie's son, Pierre-Louis Bauday Vignaud, has paid tribute to the French authorities for their commitment to the investigation - and hevowed that his family will never cease their campaign for justice for Sophie.

"It (the prosecution) is very good news - it is news that we have waited a long time for. It is news that we have waited more than 20 years for."

For almost two decades, Sophie's elderly parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, travelled each year to west Cork to attend a Mass for their daughter and to appeal for public help to track down her killer.

Their family admitted their biggest fear was that they would not live to see someone held accountable for Sophie's brutal death.

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