Gardaí have asked the French authorities to help investigate a potential new lead in the murder of French TV producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
The new information was passed to gardaí by the Oscar-nominated film director Jim Sheridan, who made Murder at the Cottage: The Search for Justice for Sophie, one of two recently released documentaries about the crime.
The information came from Marie Farrell, a former Schull shopkeeper, once the garda’s key witness whose evidence was later discredited.
Ms Farrell believes she can now identify a man who was wearing long dark coat outside her shop days before Ms Toscan du Plantier was beaten to death at her home near Schull in December 1996.
She claimed she didn’t know who this man was but was pressured by gardaí into wrongly identifying him as Ian Bailey, the garda’s prime suspect.
She told gardaí six weeks ago she can now identify the man as an associate of the film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Sophie’s late husband.
Two sources familiar with the case told the Sunday Independent that gardaí believe the new information merits further inquiries in France.
Gardaí wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions to request French assistance in following up Ms Farrell’s statement, the sources said. Both sources said the DPP approved the request and understood a formal appeal for help was made to the French authorities.
However the Department of Justice, which is responsible for issuing such formal requests under Ireland’s mutual assistance legislation, refused to confirm this. The department said it does not comment on individual cases.
It is likely gardaí investigating Ms Farrell’s new statement will want to establish whether the person now identified by her was in Ireland around the time of Ms Toscan du Plantier’s murder.
They are likely to request the French to interview the person and to check flight and ferry passenger lists.
It is not known how the French authorities have or will respond to the request for assistance from the Irish government.
The request is complicated because while Ms Toscan du Plantier’s murder remains unsolved in Ireland, under French law the crime has been solved.
Mr Bailey was convicted in absentia of Ms Toscan du Plantier’s murder after a trial in France in 2019. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail.
The DPP in Ireland found there was no evidence to charge Mr Bailey with murder. Mr Bailey has consistently protested his innocence.
It is understood Ms Farrell, who was interviewed for Jim Sheridan’s documentary, was Googling the case when she came across an image of a man she now claims she saw outside her shop 25 years ago.
Mr Sheridan gave the information to gardaí three months ago. Detectives contacted Ms Farrell and took a statement from her in Skibbereen garda station in June.
Ms Farrell's new testimony has been dismissed as “fantasy” by Ms Toscan du Plantier’s uncle, Jean-Pierre Gazeau, who claimed she was a “long-discredited witness”.
Her credibility was questioned during a High Court case against the State taken by Ian Bailey in 2015. The judge forwarded her evidence to the DPP to be investigated for perjury but no charges followed.