Ian Bailey challenge: 24-year fallout from case has taken toll on all sides

A change in 2019 to the law governing European arrest warrants removes one of the protections that was afforded to Ian Bailey by the Supreme Court in 2012
Ian Bailey challenge: 24-year fallout from case has taken toll on all sides
Ian Bailey, 63, arriving to the High Court on Friday for his extradition hearing. Picture: Collins Courts

The investigation into the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier remains active.

The status of the case was confirmed by a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána this week. As such the police are still looking for the perpetrator, and open to receiving any evidence that might advance the case. Ms du Plantier’s badly beaten body was found outside her holiday home near Schull in West Cork on December 23, 1996.

Meanwhile, the case is closed in France. Last May, a Paris court found Ian Bailey guilty of the murder and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

The French had prosecuted Mr Bailey under Napoleonic law, allowing for the investigation of the deaths of French citizens abroad.

Mr Bailey has always denied any involvement in Ms du Plantier’s death.

He was not present for the Cour d’Assises (criminal court) trial and has described it as a “farce”. If he either presents himself in France, or is extradited there, he will be entitled to a retrial or appeal. However, all the indications are that the evidence presented to the Paris court last year will be precisely the same in what would amount to a second murder trial.

That’s the background against which the High Court this week heard a challenge by Mr Bailey to a European arrest warrant from France requesting his surrender. The Irish courts are being asked to hand over a man in relation to a murder committed in this country which remains an unsolved and live case because the French have concluded he is the murderer.

It is unclear how the French authorities might react if An Garda Síochána identified a fresh suspect in the case who, for instance, was resident in France.

Would the French assist the Irish police in investigating a murder which a Paris court has determined is solved and justice dispensed?

Ian Bailey is now 63 years of age. He attended Court 13 in the Criminal Courts of Justice building this week to hear arguments about his fate. He sat at the back of the room where social distancing permitted limited attendance. He moves with a stoop, under a wide-brimmed hat and large scarf which serves as his face mask.

He first came to public attention in the weeks after the discovery of Ms du Plantier’s badly beaten body. The intervening years have not been kind to him.

If the courts accede to hand him over to the French, he will in all likelihood spend the rest of his life in prison.

This is the third time the French have attempted to get the Irish authorities to surrender Mr Bailey. In 2012, the High Court agreed to hand him over but the Supreme Court overturned that. In his judgment at the time, the late Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman laid out some of the background to the case.

“Mr Bailey has been very thoroughly investigated in Ireland in connection with the death of Madame du Plantier. There was certainly, as will be seen, no lack of enthusiasm to prosecute him if the facts suggested that there was evidence against him," said Mr Justice Hardiman.

“He has been subjected to arrest and detention for the purpose of questioning.

"He has voluntarily provided, at the request of the gardaí, forensic samples which have failed to yield incriminating evidence. The fruit of the investigation have been considered not once but several times by the DPP who has concluded and reiterated that there is no evidence to warrant a prosecution against him.” 

Mr Bailey’s legal team are relying on the 2012 judgment as one plank of their case to prevent his extradition. The Supreme Court result gave him, they say, a “vested right” not to be surrendered to France.

Another plank of their case is “abuse of process”, on the basis that the French keep coming back despite the 2012 ruling. A second attempt to extradite him in 2017 was thrown out for abuse of process.

Ronan Munro, for Mr Bailey, also pointed out to the court that it had taken an inordinate length of time — 24 years — to put Mr Bailey on trial for the murder.

On Thursday, the second day of the hearing, Judge Paul Burns began by asking whether there was any representative of the deceased woman’s family present. A woman who was transcribing proceedings from the empty jury box raised her hand. 

The judge said the “dry nature” of the extradition proceedings should not be taken that anybody had forgotten the tragic nature of Ms du Plantier’s death.

He offered his condolences.

The deceased woman’s family have been driving efforts to bring, as they see it, Mr Bailey to justice. From early on they did not accept the outcome of the Garda investigation and DPP’s repeated determinations.

Ms du Plantier’s only child, Pierre Louis Baudey Vignaud, was 15 when he lost his mother. He spoke movingly to the three judges in the Paris trial about his memories. “I lived alone with her for a long time so I knew her well,” he said. 

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,” he said.

It is obvious that Mr Baudey Bignaud and his extended family feel a keen sense of injustice about the failure so far to bring anybody to account for the murder.

This reporter was among a group of Irish journalists who attended the Paris trial. And it is fair to say that it bore no resemblance to a serious criminal trial in this jurisdiction. In fact, it had all the hallmarks of a confirmatory hearing to rubberstamp Mr Bailey’s guilt. The specifics of that trial were not explored at this week’s extradition hearing and don’t appear to have any role in the ultimate determination of whether Mr Bailey is to be handed over.

The State, in pushing for the extradition, is relying to a large extent on a change in 2019 to the law governing European arrest warrants. This allows for the extradition to another EU country of a person who is not a citizen of the surrendering country. This removes one of the protections that was afforded Mr Bailey by the Supreme Court in 2012.

The State’s counsel, Robert Barron, today told Judge Burns that the du Plantier family feels they have not achieved justice.

A result in the case is expected by the end of the month, but it will in all likelihood be appealed, perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court. The outcome has the potential to create diplomatic tension between the two countries. It will also, whichever way it goes, have a major impact on the lives of those who have been living with the fallout from Ms du Plantier’s brutal murder for the last 24 years.

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