Plea by Sophie’s son to locals is entirely understandable, but unfair

Pierre-Louis Baudey Vignaud

How sad it was to watch the son of Sophie Toscan du Plantier speak of the murder of his mother last weekend in Goleen. Pierre-Louis Baudey Vignaud was 15 when his mother was brutally murdered. It is impossible for us to imagine the effect that had on him, compounded by the fact that no one has ever been convicted of the crime.

He does his mother’s memory a wonderful service by refusing to stop coming to her holiday home, the scene of her killing. It is an act that many of us would find impossible. It was a place he first visited when he was eight years old.

The Frenchman said his mother was a real flesh and blood person, whose life ended in a horrifying manner. He spoke of his pride at her ‘resilience’ in her final moments.

“I still come back here every year because it is the only way for me to defy this violence and to destroy it.” he said last Sunday when he attended a Mass in Goleen in her memory. Who would disagree with his assertion that this tragedy was a sad page in Irish history? Over the decades Sophie’s family have never given up on their fight for justice and why should they?

However Pierre-Louis’ plea to locals to travel to Paris to testify at the trial of Ian Bailey, which begins in the French High Court this Monday, is unfair.

I want to make an appeal to all the people here — anyone who has received requests from the magistrates in France, come and tell (your story). We must be all together against violence.

He added that for two decades he had trusted the people of West Cork. “Do not betray me. Do not betray yourselves”. His plea is entirely understandable, but unfair nonetheless.

This is a case that at one time you might have said could have been turned into a movie such was the horror of the story and the twists and turns since. Instead it formed the basis for a hugely successful podcast that gained international attention when it was released last year.

The West Cork series released on Audible was an extraordinary piece of work that not only got into the detail of the case, but also shone a light on the region and the large number of “blow ins” who settled there over the decades.

As a native found that element particularly fascinating in that it gave the perspective of outsiders on the outsiders who had moved in — people who had adopted our home as theirs, and just seemed part of the natural landscape as we grew up.

The podcast was made by Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde. Forde has said that one of the most important characters in it was West Cork itself.

“It was really important to us that West Cork as a place should be like a central character. We really tried to bring it to life through all the voices of the people that live there. The history of the place is so interesting to us, the landscape, the atmosphere,” she said previously in an interview with this newspaper. They did exactly that.

Without doubt there were many people who would have preferred that podcast had never happened. It didn’t just remind everyone of this brutal unsolved murder, but did so in such a high-profile way. Never let it be said though that this was the only thing to keep attention on the case.

The main protagonist in all of this — Ian Bailey — is one of the greatest attention seekers of all time. He is also a man who was accused of this crime, an accusation for which sufficient evidence was never produced by investigating gardaí for him to stand trial. He has consistently denied any involvement in the murder. You might say that every which way,

including highly suspect ones, were employed to try and hang this murder on our most notorious blow in, but even then it could not be made to stick. He has consistently denied any involvement in the murder.

Yet the French have decided the exact same evidence is sufficient to try him in that country. That is wrong. His solicitor, Frank Buttimer has said his client will not be in Paris for the trial and will not be mounting a defence as he does not recognise that the proceedings are valid or just.

Our Director of Public Prosecutions has long since decided there was insufficient evidence for a trial. That is unpalatable to many people to hear — especially since Ian Bailey is such a hard person to like on a number of fronts. But it is fact.

Sophie Touscan du Plantier
Sophie Touscan du Plantier

I remember all the speculation last summer about whether he would turn up to the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry for the session with the English producers Bungey and Forde who made the podcast.

Of course he did, dressed in a manner in which he could not fail to stand out, given his height he always does anyway. It added a considerable frisson to proceedings to have him in the packed room in the Maritime Hotel as journalist Justine McCarthy, another West Cork woman, put the pair through their paces.

It was a fascinating evening but there was widespread disappointment that at the end the interviewer and interviewees swept off the stage before they could be asked any questions. The audience, myself included, were dying to get some further insights.

But despite my own frustration I could see exactly why the decision was made to do so, borne out of a fear that Ian Bailey would take over proceedings from the floor. He is, and always has been, an outrageous notice box, operating in a realm of Walter Mitty-like fantasy.

He is capable of appalling violence against women — as evidenced by his violent attacks on his partner for which he has a criminal conviction. Nothing he does, it seems, helps his own case.

But those facts do not change the basic facts of the situation. It is, as his solicitor says, unjust. Either we believe in our own justice system or we do not. It is an ongoing situation of horror for the family of Sophie Toscan du Plantier but those witnesses who have been called should stay at home.

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