Bailey murder trial begins in Paris in absence of majority of Irish witnesses

Ten minutes into the murder trial of Ian Bailey, a translator was sworn in.

Bailey murder trial begins in Paris in absence of majority of Irish witnesses

Ten minutes into the murder trial of Ian Bailey, a translator was sworn in.

Judge Frédérique Aline pointed out that this was necessary in order to translate for witnesses or the defendant.

The man on trial is English and the vast majority of the witnesses Irish. They couldn’t be expected to follow a murder trial in what, to them, is a foreign language.

The translator is set for an easy week. Mr Bailey won’t need the proceedings translated as he is not present.

Neither are most of more than a dozen witnesses from the West Cork area, who received requests to attend.

Usually in a murder trial the spirit of the victim hangs over proceedings.

In this particular trial, most of those who could provide any first-hand knowledge to help the court are absent.

The result is a murder trial that has little precedent. For that and other reasons, something of a surreal air permeates the courtroom in the Palais de Justice.

The trial before a presiding judge and two magistrates got under way at 2.45pm local time.

After a preamble laying out the basis for the trial, Judge Aline set out the factual case against Mr Bailey.

The front two rows of the body of the courtroom were taken up with Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s relatives and some friends who made up the Association for the Truth of the Murder of Sophie Tuscan du Plantier.

These included Ms Toscan du Plantier’s elderly parents George and Marguirette Bouniol and their grandson, Sophie’s son, Pierre-Louis.

The trial is the culmination of a campaign by the family and friends to bring to justice the man they believe has a case to answer for her death.

The bereaved family is represented by a team of lawyers at the trial who have the right to question witnesses and make submissions.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud arrives with his lawyer Marie Dose at the courthouse in Paris. Picture: Alain Jocard/Getty Images
Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud arrives with his lawyer Marie Dose at the courthouse in Paris. Picture: Alain Jocard/Getty Images

The opening minutes of the judge’s address could not have been easy for the deceased woman’s loved ones.

Details were outlined of the finding of her body near her holiday home in Toormore outside Schull, Co Cork.

She was wearing light nightclothes, including a blue bathrobe, and walking boots but no socks. She had sustained some horrific head injuries.

Blood was splattered near the body. There was a rock there also, which is believed to have been the weapon used to kill.

Over the following 90 minutes, Judge Aline went through how Mr Bailey entered the frame of suspicion for the crime.

He had scratches on his hands; he subsequently made a number of admissions; a bonfire was detected as having occurred near the home he shared with his partner Jules Thomas; a neighbour of Sophie said that Mr Bailey knew the deceased woman; Mr Bailey and Ms Thomas changed their original story about his alibi.

All of these elements of the case have been considered a number of times by the DPP in this country, but, along with other strands, were deemed as insufficient on which to base a prosecution.

The extent to which they will be tested in this trial remains to be seen.

Another feature of the opening address by the presiding judge was that to a large extent it resembled the opening speech of a prosecution lawyer in a murder trial in this jurisdiction.

The first witness gave evidence of Ms Toscan du Plantier’s background, sketching out a brief narrative from cradle to grave.

Michel La Rousse is a psychologist who interviewed a number of people about her life. He related that she had a happy childhood, which included an early trip to Dublin.

She studied law but moved into working in various jobs in arts-related fields.

“She hated being bored and did all sorts of things to keep busy,” said Mr La Rousse, adding she was an open person, perhaps naive.

A son was born to her and her then-husband in 1981 but the marriage didn’t last.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier

She met Daniel du Plantier and married him in 1990, but, the court was told, her new husband was focused on his career rather than his marriage.

She began an affair with a painter, but that soured when she wanted to have a child with him but he wasn’t interested.

Around this time she discovered Ireland and then used to holiday there frequently.

The public prosecutor asked the witness who was her lover in Ireland. “She had no lover there,” he replied. “She asked people to go with her to Ireland.”

The detail of the evidence related would be highly unusual to anybody accustomed to Irish criminal trails.

Bereaved relatives of homicide victims frequently criticise the system because their loved one’s life is rarely referenced in a trial.

The evidence about Ms Toscan du Plantier’s private life is probably something relatives in Ireland would be uncomfortable having aired in an open court.

Ian Bailey. Picture: Dan Linehan
Ian Bailey. Picture: Dan Linehan

This is France though and sexual mores are different.

Apart from that, one possible reason for the detail was to open up the deceased woman’s life in order to show there were no former or spurned lovers lurking in the background as possible suspects.

The detail about Ms Toscan du Plantier’s private life also brought home the reality that she is now dead for over 22 years.

Rarely has a murder trial been conducted that long after a killing, unless some new, unearthed evidence came to light.

Ms Toscan du Plantier’s son, who has taken a lead role in the campaign to have this trial, was a teenager when he lost her.

He is now in the foothills of middle age, still trying to get justice for his mother.

The remainder of the trial this week will give an insight into the quality of justice that may be on offer.

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