Friday 20 September 2019

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was killed with 'extreme violence' - Paris murder trial hears

Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire
Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire
Journalist Ian Bailey is on trial in Paris ‘in absentia’ accused of the murder of filmmaker Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sarah Collins

Sophie Toscan du Plantier suffered multiple fractures, lacerations and was killed with “extreme violence”, a Paris court heard today.

The accused, 62-year-old journalist and poet Ian Bailey, is being tried in absentia after Ireland refused successive extradition requests from the French authorities. He has repeatedly denied the charges.

Expert medical witness Marc Taccoen said the 39-year-old mother-of-one suffered fractures to her skull, defensive fractures to her hands and multiple lacerations to her brain and body, after she was hit repeatedly with a “heavy object”. He said that “considerable force” was used to wield the object, which could be either a breeze block or a large flat stone, both of which were found near her body.

Mr Taccoen was part of the French team that re-examined evidence from the 1996 murder following Ms du Plantier’s exhumation in 2008.

Investigators believe she died while trying to flee an attacker who called to her remote holiday home in west Cork on the night of 22-23 December 1996.

She lay undiscovered for several hours, Mr Taccoen said, and her body remained at the scene of the crime for at least 24 hours after discovery - covered with plastic sheeting - until the state pathologist could attend.

The second day of the French trial into the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier did not add any new DNA evidence to the findings of the then-state pathologist John Harbison.

After a decade-long search, investigators are still unable to determine her specific time of death and have failed to find any physical evidence linking Ian Bailey to the  crime scene.

The 1997 evidence of two Gardaí, Bart O’Leary and Kevin Kelleher, was read out the court on Tuesday. The men said they remember seeing Mr Bailey looking pale, his hair messy and his hands covered in scratches in the days following the attack.

Mr Bailey says he got the injuries - including a “deep” head wound noted by Mr O’Leary - from cutting down a tree and killing a turkey for Christmas. 

The Gardaí also said there were conflicting stories of the night of the murder given by Mr Bailey and his partner Jules Thomas, who lived just a few kilometres from Ms du Plantier’s home in Schull, Co Cork.

Mr Bailey denies ever having met or known Ms du Plantier, but has said that he remembers seeing her.

Her best friend, Agnès Thomas, later recalled Ms du Plantier telling her about a man who wrote poetry and who had asked to meet her to collaborate on a project together.

“She thought he was strange,” Ms Thomas told the court. “She was wary of him. If she ever met him, it would have been professional,” she said, adding that Ms du Plantier was working on a documentary at the time of her death. However, she did not recall being told the man’s name.

Family and friends told the court how they only found out about the murder via the media. Even her late husband, Daniel Toscan du Plantier, saw the news on television while visiting a friend in the French countryside.

“Daniel and I spent the day together and saw on TV that a French woman had been killed in Ireland. We didn’t believe it was Sophie,” said Jacob Gilbert, a friend of Mr du Plantier’s.

Mr Gilbert described Ms du Plantier as elegant, chaste and a natural beauty, but said she was very deep and reserved, and often needed time alone to recharge.

That’s what brought her to Schull just before Christmas in 1996, where she told friends she was going to read and relax.

She had just come out of a “complicated crisis” in her marriage, her friend Agnès Thomas said, but had planned to rejoin her husband, son and parents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Ms Thomas described her friend as vibrant, generous and passionate about her work as a film producer. She was also fearless and very protective, a characteristic Ms Thomas believes may have led her to answer the door to her attacker on that December night.

“Sophie took care of other people,” Ms Thomas said. “If someone needed help and knocked on her door during the night, she [was the kind of person who] would open the door.”

The case is still ongoing at the criminal court in Paris. The panel of three judges (a jury trial is not possible under French law, due to Mr Bailey’s absence) is expected to return a verdict on Friday.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News