No public event to mark 20th anniversary as frail family’s grief goes on
- Eoin English
It had been a heartbreaking annual pilgrimage for them to the place where she at first found peace and solitude, and where she ultimately met a brutal death.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s parents, Marguerite and Georges Bouniol, would traditonally fly in from Paris a few days before Christmas each year to spend a few days at her holiday home in West Cork to mark the anniversary of her death.
They would attend a memorial Mass in Goleen, lay a wreath at the bottom of the laneway leading from their daughter’s isolated holiday home in Toormore, near Schull, and pause to reflect at the spot where her battered body was found on this date in 1996.
And every year, with courage and dignity, they would express the hope that, one day, they would eventually get justice for her.
To mark the 10th anniversary of her death, in 2006, they wrote a poignant open letter to her killer in the hope it would lead to a breakthrough in the case.
Their letter read: “You were the last person she saw — you, her killer. A look of terror, and probably pleading, in her eyes.
“She tried to escape from you. She ran through the field, bleeding, her hands and her arms broken. She screamed for help, knowing that no one would hear her, her cries drowned out in the wailing wind.
“And yet she believed in friendship, in the Ireland she loved, where she owned the house she had dreamed of. She found there the calm she needed for her work. She was always touched by the kindness of Irish people. When you murder someone, it’s the family you kill.”
As the years wore on, their visits became more of an effort and, in turn, less frequent. Two decades of relentless campaigning, and false hope has taken its toll. Their pain endures.
George, a retired dentist, is in his early 90s. Marguerite, a former deputy mayor of Paris’s second arrondissement, is in her late 80s.
Neither made the trip to West Cork this year. A close friend of the family said they are frail and physically not up to making the trip.
There will be no public event, in either Ireland or Paris, to mark today’s 20th anniversary.
It is understood that her parents will be joined by close family and friends at a private memorial in Paris.
But the Association for the Truth about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (AsSoph), the group set up to crusade for justice on behalf of her family, say the fight for justice goes on.
Jean-Pierre Gazeau, Sophie’s uncle and the president of AsSoph, said his niece was murdered in dreadful circumstances just yards from her beloved Irish home.
“At that time, no one could predict that family, friends, and all of the people aware of the case would have to wait 20 years for truth and justice for Sophie,” he said.
“At this moment, we have neither truth nor justice. We are still waiting just like so many other families and friends of victims in Ireland.
“AsSoph feels very strongly about this lack of truth and justice and we are in total solidarity with the families of victims and our friends.
“In Sophie’s case, an important step in our search for truth and justice was reached when the French investigating judge decided in July to charge the main suspect with voluntary manslaughter before the Paris Assize Court, and simultaneously issued a second European arrest warrant against him. Hence, we now have a suspect who is also an accused person.
“Our quest for truth and justice changes its tenor because of the perspective of a case in absentia, and unless the Republic of Ireland eventually decides to honour its European commitments on judicial co-operation, and makes an immediate transfer of the suspect to the French authorities.
“Then if the accused is convicted, we can really fight to obtain justice, because a convicted person must be punished.”
Mr Gazeau said everyone involved in AsSoph knows the campaign for justice still has a way to go, and he insists that AsSoph, as well as Sophie’s family and friends, remain “very vigilant”.
“There will be many obstacles that will transpire in the coming months to slow or block the case, and it is this continual underbelly of thematic elements which is visible in Sophie’s case and in so many others in Ireland,” said Mr Gazeau.
“The French judiciary and the family of the Sophie are clearly being insulted.
“The charge being brought before the Paris Assize Court is described as a farce by the accused’s Irish solicitor, or one-sided by the accused’s French lawyer.
“But we ask on what side is the farce or the bias?
“Is it not the refusal by Ireland to fulfil its obligations in terms of justice and European judicial cooperation during these 20 years, or if it is not the distressing spectacle given by the suspect during the case that he brought against the Irish State, and newspapers (and lost), in 2003 and 2014.
“To clarify, the French judicial procedure is not a ‘farce’ and is not ‘one-sided’.”
Mr Gazeau said the process offers “sound guarantees” by allowing the accused person to appeal against his committal for trial by the Assize Court, to be represented and defended by a lawyer if a trial is held in absentia in Paris, and if, in case of a conviction and he is extradited to France, then a new trial has to be organised in his presence and the presence of his lawyers.
“The case of Sophie Toscan du Plantier has dragged its heels in the Irish State for 20 years now,” he said.
“Is it now long overdue for the family of Sophie to obtain the justice they so rightly deserve, and which is demanded in compliance with European ;aw?”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved