Thursday 22 March 2018

Key Sophie witness unlikely to attend Paris trial

Ralph Riegel

A KEY witness is unlikely to be able to travel to France for any Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder trial.

The witness has agreed to be interviewed by the team of French investigators due to travel to Ireland next month.

The French team will meet people they believe may have information about the brutal killing of the 37-year-old mother of one 15 years ago.

But, alongside two other individuals, the key witness has raised concerns about their ability to attend any subsequent Paris trial.

British freelance journalist Ian Bailey (53) is fighting extradition to France where the authorities want to put him on trial for the killing.

The key witness is understood to have made statements to gardai about whether or not Mr Bailey knew Ms Toscan du Plantier.

Mr Bailey has consistently maintained he never met the French film executive.

The other two witnesses who would have difficulties attending a Paris trial made statements in relation to events on December 22/23, 1996 -- the last days of Ms Toscan du Plantier's life.

A total of 31 witnesses -- most of whom gave evidence at the 2003 Circuit Court libel hearing taken by Mr Bailey against eight Irish and British newspapers -- have now agreed to fully co-operate with the French team.

While the French prosecutors will be able to enter all sworn statements in evidence -- even if the witnesses are not present in court -- that evidence may be open to defence challenges.

Mr Bailey, who has consistently protested his innocence, is awaiting the outcome of his Supreme Court extradition challenge.

Bantry gardai, under Chief Supt Tom Hayes and Detective Inspector Joe Moore, are liaising with the French team -- ordered to Ireland by Paris magistrate Patrick Gachon -- about the interviews and statement reviews which will be taken in September.


The French team will include forensic experts who will be given direct access to evidence in the garda murder file.

One witness who agreed to travel to Paris if required, photographer Michael McSweeney, said he had "absolutely no problem" with the request.

"I was contacted by Bantry gardai about it and I had no difficulty in meeting them (French detectives) if they wanted," he said.

Shirley Foster -- Ms Toscan du Plantier's next-door neighbour and the person who discovered her battered body on December 23, 1996 -- declined to comment at her Toormore, west Cork, home yesterday.

No one has ever been charged in relation to Ms Toscan du Plantier's killing despite one of the biggest murder probes in the history of the State.

Irish Independent

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