Wednesday 19 December 2018

Ian Bailey trial set to make judicial history

Ian Bailey has protested his innocence for 20 years, but could face trial in France in his absence. Picture: Courtpix
Ian Bailey has protested his innocence for 20 years, but could face trial in France in his absence. Picture: Courtpix

Ralph Riegel

In 2003, Ian Bailey's libel action against eight Irish and British newspapers over their coverage of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder in west Cork caused a legal sensation.

Now, 15 years later, the impending French trial of the British-born freelance journalist over the death of the mother of one is set to make Franco-Irish judicial history.

The case - arguably Ireland's highest profile unsolved murder - has been the focus of three books, a film-in-the-making and an eagerly awaited Amazon podcast series.

Modelled on the smash-hit sensation, 'Serial', the 13-part Amazon show, entitled 'West Cork' will be online via Audible Original from Thursday.

The series goes online exactly one week after a French court rejected Mr Bailey's attempt to block any Paris-based homicide trial.

The three-judge Chambre d'Instruction ruled there were "sufficient grounds" for Mr Bailey (60) to face prosecution over the death at the age of 39 of Ms du Plantier on December 23, 1996.

Mr Bailey and his legal team must now decide whether to challenge the ruling to France's highest appeal court, the Cour de Cessation.

Defence legal counsel Dominique Tricaud confirmed he will consult closely with his client over any appeal.

Mr Bailey's Irish solicitor, Frank Buttimer, said it what was happening in France was "farcical". "It will effectively be a show trial, if it ever happens," he said.

"The evidence on which I believe it (the prosecution) intends to rely is no more than the evidence rejected 20 years ago by the late Mr (Eamon) Barnes, Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions," Mr Buttimer said.

The French film executive was found battered to death near her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull two days before Christmas after apparently trying to flee from an intruder. Despite one of the biggest Garda murder investigations in history and two cold case reviews over the past 22 years, no one has ever been charged with her murder.

For two decades, Sophie's elderly parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, travelled each year to west Cork to appeal for public help to identify her killer.

Mr Bailey was arrested twice by gardaí for questioning but was released without charge on both occasions.

The journalist has vehemently protested his innocence and claimed that "sinister attempts" were made to frame him.

In 2003 Mr Bailey sued a number of Irish and British newspapers over their coverage of the case - and he later sued the State for wrongful arrest.

French authorities launched an investigation under Paris-based magistrate Patrick Gachon 10 years ago when the Irish authorities confirmed there was no prospect of a prosecution.

If a Paris trial proceeds, Mr Bailey will be tried in absentia having successfully contested a 2012 extradition bid.

The French are confident the majority of Irish witnesses interviewed as part of the original Garda probe will travel to Paris for the planned trial.

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

French law allows for sworn witness statements to be used even if the witness is not present or even deceased.

Mr Bailey previously said that being wrongly associated with the crime has been "like a torture" for the past two decades.

The investigation by magistrate Gachon and latterly magistrate Nathalie Turquey included re-interviewing all the original Garda witnesses, exhuming Sophie's body and conducting a battery of new forensic tests.

Mr Bailey has repeatedly vowed to fight "tooth and nail" against a second extradition warrant.

"I believe this will all only end with my death. Or the second alternative is if the French convict me of murder in my absence at a Paris trial," he warned.

Sophie's son, Pierre-Louis Bauday Vignaud, vowed his family will never cease their campaign for justice.

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

Irish Independent

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