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British man to face trial in France over 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier

© Peter Muhly, AFP | Former British journalist Ian Bailey speaking to the media after winning his appeal against the extradition to France at the High Court in Dublin, Ireland, March 1 2012.

Text by Sophie GORMAN

Latest update : 2018-02-03

A British journalist accused of killing a French woman in Ireland over 20 years ago is to go on trial in France, in absentia.

Ian Bailey will be tried by a French court for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, who was found dead in Ireland on December 23, 1996.

The three-judge Chambre d'Instruction in Paris ruled this week that there were "sufficient grounds" for Bailey to face prosecution over the death of du Plantier.

If the trial goes ahead, Bailey will be tried in absentia having successfully contested a 2012 extradition bid.

"It's a relief for the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, even if they know that the trial won't happen immediately and will probably take place without the suspect," said Laurent Pettiti, a lawyer for her relatives.

"The goal is that once there has been a trial and sentencing, Paris will push Dublin to finally extradite him [Bailey]," Pettiti said.

The 39-year-old victim was the wife of celebrated French film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the former head of Gaumont film studio.

Brutal Christmas killing

The mother-of-one was killed outside her isolated holiday cottage in southwest Ireland. She had arrived in Ireland alone for a short break and was due to fly back to France later that day, December 23, to spend Christmas with her family and her 14-year-old son, Pierre Louis.

Her body was discovered by a neighbour in the morning of December 23 in the laneway to her home. Du Plantier was wearing only her nightclothes and had been beaten to death with a concrete block.

Bailey, a 60-year-old retired journalist who has lived in Ireland since 1991, has always been the prime suspect in the case. He was arrested twice in Ireland for the murder and released without charge both times. He has vehemently denied the killing.

This is a case filled with dramatic turns that has gripped both Ireland and France. It has already been the subject of three books and there is both a film in development and a 13 part Amazon podcast series due out on February 8.

At the time of du Plantier’s death, Bailey was living just a few miles away from her in County Cork with his partner, Welsh artist Jules Thomas.

He became a suspect two weeks after the murder, when a local woman made an anonymous call to the police reporting seeing a man similar to Bailey on a bridge near the time and place of the murder. He was questioned further because of deep scratches on his arms and an alleged history of domestic violence. Bailey claimed the cuts on his arms came from cutting down a Christmas tree.

A local schoolboy gave a statement to police six days before Bailey’s first arrest, alleging that on a lift home Bailey had openly declared that he had killed du Plantier. Bailey subsequently explained that this was simply bluster and he said it out of frustration at all the police attention and that he was just verbalising what everyone was thinking.

No forensic evidence has ever linked Bailey to the murder scene.

Bailey has always said that he had never met du Plantier. But a French filmmaker friend of du Plantier, Guy Girand, came forward in 1999 to report to Irish police that du Plantier had told him weeks before her death about Bailey. Girand said they were having a discussion about violence in film and du Plantier said that it made her think of a friend called Bailey who was a writer who lived near her house in Cork.

Domestic abuse history

Bailey was arrested in 2001 for assaulting Thomas at their home. He received a three month suspended sentence. He later admitted it was his third time assaulting her.

In 2002, a review team launched an inquiry into the procedures of Irish police on the du Plantier case, following a very critical analysis of the original police investigation, which concluded there was not sufficient evidence for prosecution and that there had been instances of incompetence and abuse of due process.

Bailey himself alleged that ‘sinister attempts’ were made to frame him. He also claimed that the Irish police coerced witnesses and tampered with evidence in a failed March 2015 civil action he took in the Irish High Court.

A French magistrate, Judge Patrick Gachon, opened a separate inquiry in 2008 as, under French law, authorities can investigate crimes against French citizens committed outside of the country. He also ordered the exhumation of du Plantier’s body from the family plot at Combret in Lozere for a new French post-mortem and a comprehensive forensic examination.

After interviewing senior Irish police in Paris and inspecting the Irish murder scene himself, Gachon issued a European arrest warrant for Bailey in 2010.

Under French law, French authorities can investigate crimes against French citizens committed outside France. But Irish courts have twice refused to extradite Bailey on procedural grounds.

A five-judge panel of the Supreme Court refused to surrender Bailey in 2012 and four of the five judges upheld Bailey’s argument that section 44 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 prohibits surrender because the alleged offence was committed outside French territory. Irish law does not allow prosecution for the same offence when committed outside its territory by a non-Irish citizen.

The Irish judge hearing the 2017 application, Mr Justice Tony Hunt, said he was again refusing surrender of Bailey to French authorities because, in the unique circumstances of this case, it was an “abuse of process”.

Upon hearing the decision in France this week, Bailey's Irish solicitor, Frank Buttimer, said what was happening was "farcical". "It will effectively be a show trial, if it ever happens," he said to the Irish Independent newspaper.

"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," Buttimer said.

He also claimed that the inaction of the Irish Department of Justice to a 2013 request by the French investigators to interview Bailey as an ‘assisted witness’ has led to the French murder trial. It has been reported that the Department of Justice never contacted Bailey or Buttimer about this request.

For his part, Bailey has said he wants the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to try him for murder in Ireland.

“I’m going to suggest that the DPP or the authorities in Ireland invite the French prosecutors to travel here to Ireland and to overview, under Irish law, my trial here. I would welcome it.”

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

Date created : 2018-02-03

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