Tuesday 23 January 2018

Sophie followed her heart to remote spot -- but it cost French filmmaker her life

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

SOPHIE Toscan du Plantier fell in love with west Cork on her very first visit.

She had her heart set on buying a holiday home in the remote spot which reminded her so much of her childhood in Lozere in south-central France and school holidays spent at l'Aubrac.

But her decision would ultimately lead to her death and a murder case which has made headlines in Ireland and France for 15 years. Yesterday's High Court ruling on the extradition of Ian Bailey was just the latest instalment in a saga that threatens to drag on for many more months, if not years.

It began almost 20 years ago, in September 1992, when Ms Toscan du Plantier came to view a holiday home in Toormore, which boasted views over the Schull-Goleen countryside. The house was the perfect spot for family breaks and she bought it within months.

Her final visit to the property came just four years later, as she flew into Cork Airport for a brief pre-Christmas break alone.

She intended to fly back to Paris on December 23, 1996, for a New Year's holiday in West Africa with her husband, film executive Daniel du Plantier.

But on that day her battered body was discovered at the foot of the laneway leading from the holiday home. She had apparently tried to flee from an assailant at the house but was caught near a gateway after her clothing apparently snagged on barbed wire. She died from horrific head injuries. The bid to extradite Ian Bailey -- which was lodged by the Paris authorities last April -- followed the failure to prosecute anyone in Ireland for the brutal killing.

Despite a massive garda investigation -- and two subsequent 'cold case' reviews -- no one was ever charged.

Mr Bailey was twice arrested and questioned by gardai -- in February 1997 and January 1998 -- but was released without charge on both occasions.

Mr Bailey was adamant that he was innocent -- and in 1994-95 took defamation proceedings against eight Irish and British newspapers who, he claimed, had libelled him.

Then one of the key witnesses in the libel hearing -- Schull shopkeeper Marie Farrell -- recanted her evidence and claimed she had only made specific statements under duress.

Ms Toscan du Plantier's family were left with the option of mounting a civil action based, in large part, on some of the material from the libel hearing.

They initially signalled a civil case but, within two years, had abandoned it. The only avenue left open to the family was a French-led investigation and potential prosecution.

Starting in October 2007, a lobby group was set up -- the Sophie Toscan du Plantier Truth Association (STDPTA) -- comprised of Sophie's friends, colleagues and family members.

Very quickly, the STDPTA began to make significant progress, with the major breakthrough being the appointment of a Paris-based magistrate, Patrick Gachon, who would lead the new probe.

The French authorities formally requested access to key elements of the murder file.

When that access was granted, it was interpreted as an admission that there was now little likelihood of a prosecution ever occurring in Ireland.

Finally, in April 2010, the French team formally sought a European Arrest Warrant for Ian Bailey.

In all likelihood, the Bailey extradition case is destined for the Supreme Court and will ultimately rank as a landmark in both Irish and European law.

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