Sophie’s son: 'We’d a shared understanding of suffering' and ‘court has duty to her grandchildren’

Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud spoke in a low, steady voice about his loss.

Sophie’s son: 'We’d a shared understanding of suffering' and ‘court has duty to her grandchildren’

Paris

The only son of Sophie Toscan du Plantier told the Ian Bailey murder trial yesterday that the outcome of the trial will help determine whether he will feel secure in continuing to bring his children to Ireland.

At the trial in the Palais de Justice in Paris, Pierre Louis Baudey Vignaud said the court had a duty of justice to his children.

“Will I let my daughter go to Ireland when she is older? This court will help me feel secure or not, whether to keep this house or not, how to keep the soul of my mother.”

The house referenced is the family holiday home in Toormore outside Schull from which Ms du Plantier is believed to have been fleeing when she was murdered in December 1996.

Ian Bailey is on trial for the murder in Paris but he is not present and not legally represented. The DPP has ruled at least four times that any evidence gathered does not warrant a prosecution. Mr Baudey Vignaud was addressing the court as part of the trial. The French system allows for full representation at a murder trial of the bereaved family. He made his address along with three other family members, Ms du Plantier’s brother, uncle and aunt.

Ms du Plantier’s parents have been present for the trial all week but did not make an address. Mr Baudey Vignaud also told the court he had been in Ireland many times but had never been asked to testify or provide any evidence about his mother’s killing.

After the family provided their testimonies, their lawyers made final submissions as per the French system. Lawyer Laurent Pettiti told the three-judge court that “Ireland does not trust French justice”. He also stated that the trial in Paris “is a humiliation for the Irish system”.

Earlier in the day the evidence in the case concluded with the presiding judge Frederique Aline reading out statements provided to the gardaí in the initial investigation.

Among the statements were a number from Maria Farrell who had initially claimed to have seen a man matching Mr Bailey’s description on a road near Ms du Plantier’s house on the night of the murder. In 2006, Ms Farrell retracted that statement and claimed gardaí had pressurised her into identifying Mr Bailey as the man she saw.

Statements from people who claimed Mr Bailey had made admissions about the killing were also read into the record. In a 2001 analysis by the DPP a number of these were ascribed to ‘sarcasm’ on Mr Bailey’s part.

The trial has also received a letter from Mr Bailey’s French lawyer Dominique Tricaud which criticised the short notice that had been given to potential witnesses living in Cork. He also said he had been informed if his client wished to call witnesses in his defence he would have to pay their expenses himself.

Mr Bailey is not legally represented at the trial but it emerged yesterday that an individual from Mr Tricaud’s office is taking notes in the public gallery. This was criticised by lawyers for Ms du Plantier’s family on the basis that proper representation was not being made at the trial. The completion of the trial and a verdict are expected tomorrow.

Sophie’s son: 'We’d a shared understanding of suffering'

Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud spoke in a low, steady voice about his loss. He mentioned that he was now 38, the same age as his mother, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, when she was killed. He remembered his childhood, up until the age of 15, when his mother was taken from him.

The courtroom in the Palais de Justice in central Paris, where Ian Bailey is being tried in his absence for the murder of Ms du Plantier, was completely silent as he reflected on his relationship with his mother.

“I lived alone with her for a long time, so I knew her well,” said Mr Baudey-Vignaud. He was his mother’s only child. They shared a sense of justice about the wider world. One example of this, he told the court, related to the history of their own country.

“We had a shared understanding of suffering in the world,” he said. “For instance, the Jews having to be hidden in France during World War Two. She lives through me.”

Then, he dealt with her death and how the circumstances of that would not pollute his connection to her.

Pierre-Jean Baudet, first husband of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, arrives for the trial in Paris. Picture: Eric Feferberg
Pierre-Jean Baudet, first husband of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, arrives for the trial in Paris. Picture: Eric Feferberg

“I go back to Ireland,” he said of his frequent visits to the holiday home from where his mother was fleeing when she was brutally murdered. “It’s not a crime scene. I try to keep this house for the memory of the spirit. It’s where I feel good.”

The testimony was moving, no less so for the fact Mr Baudey-Vignaud was talking about somebody who has been dead for over 20 years. He and his family have not had closure. It is quite obvious they regard the murder trial of Mr Bailey as the vehicle for that closure.

Mr Baudey-Vignaud was followed by Ms du Plantier’s brother, Bertrand Bouniol. He concluded his evidence with a childhood memory: “When I was five or six, I remember asking my grandparents why we celebrate people who are dead a long time. Now, I understand, after losing Sophie.”

Michel Gassot told the court Ms du Plantier, his niece, loved the isolation of Ireland, but she was also brave. “She was courageous to open her door to the killer that night,” he said.

The last relative to give evidence was the victim’s aunt, Marie Madeleine Opalka, who is infirm and had difficulty walking to the witness position. She broke down during her brief testimony.

The air vibrated around her. She was like Alice in Wonderland, always wanting to learn.

"She was so different from all of Toscan du Plantier’s other women. She should be here today. It is important that justice is done.”

The testimony of a bereaved close relative of a victim of homicide is a feature of murder and manslaughter trials in Ireland. The huge difference is that any such testimony is heard in the Irish system after guilt is declared by a jury.

In the Bailey murder trial, the bereaved family are central to the prosecution. The family is represented by three gowned lawyers. The legal team is allowed to question any witness who appears before the court. Crucially, at the conclusion of the evidence, the family’s legal team make a submission to the court. Yesterday, all three of the lawyers made speeches to the three-judge court on behalf of the family. They laid out in some detail all of the evidence which they believe goes to the case that Mr Bailey is guilty of murder.

During the addresses, one of the lawyers, Laurent Pettiti, pointed out to the court that in Ireland the victim has no say on the investigation and prosecution of a suspect. That is one of a number of clear differences between what has unfolded in the Palais de Justice in Paris this week and what would constitute an Irish criminal court.

sophietoscanduplantier2019
sophietoscanduplantier2019

M Pettiti also said he was sceptical about the decision of the Irish Supreme Court to deny the extradition of Mr Bailey to France. The Irish courts have twice thrown out requests to surrender Mr Bailey. “The Irish do not trust French justice,” M Pettiti told the court.

The observation may have merit, and is, in one sense, alarming, as it involves EU member states in respective democracies that are regarded as being among the most stable in the world.

He went on to issue an opinion on how the court reflects on the Irish.

“This process is to humiliate Ireland’s justice system,” he said, concluding with a remark that Mr Bailey “prefers Irish TV to French justice”.

The portrayal of the Irish justice system is fascinating, but not to be taken too seriously. Dramatic rhetoric in courtrooms knows no national boundaries. These lawyers are duty bound to seek a conviction for Mr Bailey, following the decision not to prosecute him in the country where the crime was committed.

Shortcomings in French justice also got an airing yesterday. A letter was received by the court from Mr Bailey’s French lawyer, Dominique Tricaud. He is not representing the defendant at the trial, but it emerged that a man in the public gallery is taking notes on his behalf.

French police and members of the forensic team at Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s house in Toormore, West Cork in 2011. Picture Dan Linehan
French police and members of the forensic team at Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s house in Toormore, West Cork in 2011. Picture Dan Linehan

He criticised suggestions in court that Mr Bailey’s defence team was to blame for late notice being given to witnesses in Ireland requesting them to attend.

“This is absurd,” wrote M Tricaud. He pointed out that two of the requests were sent to the wrong address in Ireland, and no more than two weeks’ notice was given, despite the law stipulating it should be three months.

He also noted that he had been told any witnesses for the defence would have to appear under their own steam.

“It has been confirmed to me by the court that transport and food costs of witnesses that Mr Bailey wants to appear would rest with him,” wrote M Tricaud. Witnesses for the prosecution have been told they will be reimbursed expenses.

The anomaly is only one of many in this trial, certainly when viewed through eyes more accustomed to the Irish system. A nagging question in the Palais de Justice this week is whether or not it is primarily an exercise in attaining emotional closure for a family bereaved in a horrible fashion 22 years ago.

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