It’s been 20 years since Sophie Toscan du Plantier was battered to death at her holiday home in Schull in West Cork and there are still more questions than answers. Michael Clifford reports
Twists and turns of a tragic case
SHE was wearing her nightclothes when she was battered to death. White leggings and a cotton T-shirt.
A navy dressing gown lay near the body, as if it had been ripped from her as she fled, or perhaps she had attempted to discard it lest it impede her progress.
One way of the other, it appears that she was running for her life in the middle of the night.
Whoever murdered Sophie Toscan du Plantier most likely surprised her with his arrival (assuming it was a man) at her holiday home in Toormore, a few miles outside Schull.
There was no sign of forced entry. Two chairs were pulled out from the kitchen table, but that may have been down to a tendency of Sophie’s to put her feet up on an adjoining chair as she sat and read.
Whatever happened, whomever showed up, at some point she felt compelled to flee into the night, down the lane in front of the house. She never made it.
Her body was covered in blood, her face unrecognisable. Two of her fingers were broken, her scratched hands suggesting resistance.
A cavity block found near the body may have been dropped on her head. Her freckled face was unrecognisable.
Three days previously, on 20 December 1996, the 39-year-old film producer had arrived at Cork Airport for a flying visit from her home in Paris. A CCTV captured her at 2.30pm, at the Avis car rental desk, hiring a silver Ford Fiesta to take her to Schull, just over an hour away.
She was scheduled to catch a return flight on Christmas Eve, to be with her husband for the festive period. Her 15-year-old son from a previous marriage was spending Christmas with his father.
Instead, her family in Paris began to receive phone calls sometime after midday on Monday, December 23.
Something awful had happened in the beautiful sanctuary where Sophie Toscan du Plantier loved to retreat from the hustle and high life she lived in Paris. She wouldn’t be coming home.
In the days that followed, Ian Bailey came onto the investigators’ radar. He was a 39- year-old Englishman who had been living in the area for five years. A journalist by trade, he had been reporting on the murder since first showing up at the scene on the afternoon of December 23. He was regarded as a local source by the national and French media organs that were following up on the story.
Mr Bailey is the kind of character who stands out. He considered himself something of a poet, and had immersed himself in local culture. He was known to play the bodhran the odd time.
On Christmas Day that year, he was filmed at an event on Schull pier, reciting poetry. Physically, he cuts a striking figure, standing at six foot two and exuding confidence.
Soon after arriving in west Cork, he had met Jules Thomas, a Welsh artist and mother-of-three who had settled in the area.
Mr Bailey moved into a lodge on the property owned by Ms Thomas. Their relationship blossomed, and he took up residence in the main house. By 1996, they had all the appearances of partners for life.
There was, however, a darkness at the heart of their relationship. On at least two occasions, he had assaulted Ms Thomas.
One of the assaults, in May 1996, was particularly vicious. Seven years later, during a libel trial, a former friend of the couple gave a description of encountering Ms Thomas in the aftermath of the assault.
“Jules was curled up nearly in a foetal position, moaning,” Peter Bielecki told a libel hearing. “Her hair was tousled, large clumps of hair in her hands. Her eye was purple, her mouth swollen, her face had gouges in it.
“Her right hand had teeth marks. It was as if somebody had their soul ripped out, their spirit gone.” Mr Bailey would, in time, ascribe the violence towards a bad reaction to drinking spirits.
There would be one more serious assault in 2001, for which he would receive a suspended jail sentence but, despite all that, the couple are still together, over twenty years after they met.
The history of domestic violence suggested a major character flaw in Mr Bailey but, in the aftermath of the murder, the cops interpreted this as a propensity for violence towards women.
Domestic violence is a cowardly, brutal crime, but there are many men guilty of it who would not, in reality, be regarded as a general threat to the safety of women at large.
THE crime scene was contaminated. It emerged later that neighbours drove across it in order to enter and exit their homes. The state pathologist was a day late in arriving to examine the body.
John Harbison had a terrifying workload. While violent death was relatively infrequent in those times, there was more than enough work for two pathologists. He had petitioned on a number of occasions for an assistant, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Harbison finally arrived in west Cork on Christmas Eve. The first twenty four hours in any murder investigation are regarded as the vital period. Already, the hunt for the killer was in trouble.
scene in 2004. Pic: Daragh Mac Sweeney/Provision
From early on, the gardaí believed that Bailey was their man. There were suggestions, recently aired by Bailey himself in the High Court, that a French connection could be possible. This would have required somebody to ghost into the area and leave nearly directly after the murder. That avenue of inquiry was shut down pretty quickly.
What followed, according to Mr Bailey’s case, was a modus operandi that has informed various miscarriage of justice cases down through the years.
The circumstantial evidence was threadbare.
Mr Bailey had scratches on his hands, which he explained had been inflicted when he was killing turkeys and cutting down a Christmas tree on the weekend of the murder. Beyond that, there was his character flaws. There were also alleged admissions. When the news editor of The Sunday Tribune suggested to him that the gardaí regarded him as a suspect, he said, “yeah, I did it.” Another alleged admission was to a 14-year-old local boy, who says Mr Bailey told him: “I went up there with a rock and bashed her f***ing brains in.” That and other admissions were subsequently dismissed in a report compiled in the DPP’s office as words that “reek of sarcasm, not veracity”.
On January 11, the gardaí got a solid lead. A confidential call was received from a woman identifying herself as “Fiona”. She claimed to have seen a man in an overcoat stumbling at Kealfada bridge at 3am on the night/morning of the murder. The location is a mile-and-a-half from where Du Plantier’s body was found.
The gardaí eventually traced the woman. Her name was Marie Farrell. She owned a shop in Schull, and told the gardaí that the man in question was about 5’10’’ and thin build. Mr Bailey is well built and stands at around 6’2’’. The bridge is on a road that is not the direct route between the Du Plantier home and where Mr Bailey lived.
Yet the gardai believed this was another part of the jigzaw.
On 10 February, Mr Bailey was arrested and brought to Bandon Garda Station. His arrival at the station was met by a waiting media contingent which had obviously been tipped off. He was subsequently released without charge.
Immediately after that arrest, the gardaí sent an urgent message to the DPP, saying it was imperative that Bailey be charged. “Witnesses living close to him are in imminent danger of attack,” the communique said. The DPP studied the file and recommended no prosecution.
Nearly a year later, on 27 January 1998, Mr Bailey was arrested again on suspicion of murder. Following his detention, a file was once again sent to the DPP, which once again recommended no prosecution. Irrespective of what the gardaí felt, it was quite obvious that the DPP’s office was on the opinion that the evidence presented simply did not merit a prosecution for murder.
In the wake of Bailey’s first arrest, the whole case lapsed into sometimes surreal fare.
Marie Farrell claimed initially that she was intimidated by Mr Bailey on a number of occasions. “He was torturing me,” she said in a libel case in 2003. “My life was a living nightmare because I couldn’t even stay in my shop. I had to pay three girls to stay there all the time because I couldn’t be there, and in the end I just ended up in debt because I was so afraid to stay there because of Ian Bailey.” She subsequently recanted these allegation and claimed that she was put under inordinate pressure by the gardaí.
In a later High Court case, she made allegations of sexual advances by members of the force. This was the first time she had aired these allegations, which were vehemently rejected by the officers. Making such serious allegations sixteen years down the line raised many eyebrows.
Another allegation in court came from a former British soldier, who was an acquaintance of Mr Bailey’s in west Cork. Martin Graham claimed that the gardaí urged him to get close to Mr Bailey and see if he could extract some admission as to the suspect’s guilt. He claimed that in pursuit of this, members of the force supplied him with drugs. The gardaí denied this also.
Then there was the state solicitor for the area, Malachy Boohig. He claimed that one of the senior gardaí involved in the case approached him and asked him to put pressure on the then Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue, whom Mr Boohig knew from university, to in turn pressurise the DPP to bring a charge against Mr Bailey.
What emerges from all the evidence is that the gardaí were convinced of Mr Bailey’s guilt. Despite this absolute conviction, the evidence, however, simply didn’t stack up to a standard that would be required in a court of law.
In 2003, Mr Bailey’s libel action against seven newspapers opened in Cork Circuit Court.
His decision to bring the action at circuit court level was notable. The court’s jurisdiction at the time was only €38,000 and the case is heard by a judge. This meant that any award he would receive – for what were allegedly grievous reputational damages – would be limited. But the case would be decided on narrow legal grounds, rather than thrown to the mercy of a jury, which may well decide based on emotion, rather than law. At the time, Mr Bailey was still regarded in large parts of the media and public, as a pariah.
(By contrast, Bailey opted for a jury trial in a High Court action against the state in 2014. Over a decade after the libel trial, the public’s attitudes towards him had shifted somewhat, due to a number of revelations in the interim that suggested he may have been the victim of malpractice. Also, in recent years, juries in non-personal injuries cases, have made awards that legal observers have found astonishingly large.) The libel trial took on the character of a de facto murder trial. The papers’ lawyer Paul Gallagher was torrid and scathing in his cross examination of Bailey. In the end, Bailey was awarded €14,000 against two of the seven newspapers.
An appeal to the High Court three years later was a different ballgame. After Bailey had given his direct evidence, and before Gallagher had a chance to get stuck into him, the case was settled. By then, a new major development in the saga was unfolding.
In the aftermath of the libel trial, Marie Farrell gave a number of media interviews in which she alleged that Mr Bailey had attempted to intimidate her. As a result, solicitor Frank Buttimer wrote to her threatening legal action. In April 2005, Ms Farrell contacted the solicitor to say that she wished to retract her statements placing Mr Bailey at Kealfadda Bridge on the night of the murder. She claimed that she had been coerced into making the statements, and consistently harassed about the matter.
Ms Farrell’s change of heart changed the nature of the conflict between Mr Bailey and the state. It was a major boost to Mr Bailey’s case for damages that had been initiated earlier that year. An internal garda inquiry, under assistant commissioner Ray McAndrew was ordered to examine how exactly the force had conducted itself in the murder investigation.
Two years later, the McAndrew’s report was forwarded to the DPP. In July 2008, the DPP decided that no prosecutions against members of the force, or the public, were warranted. Despite repeated attempts by Mr Bailey’s legal team, the McAndrew report has never been published or handed over to Mr Bailey on discovery.
The shambles of an investigation, and the failure to prosecute anybody for the murder, prompted outrage in some French circles. The Du Plantier family were well got in the French establishment and pressure was applied to have the matter investigated.
In 2008, magistrate Patrick Gachon was appointed by the French government to investigate the murder. There is provision in French law, dating back to Napoleonic times, to investigate the death of a French citizen in a foreign jurisdiction.
Reacting to this move, solicitor Mr Buttimer described it as a “farce” as Mr Bailey was “an innocent man” and had been declared as such by the Irish courts.
The investigation was facilitated on this side of the water. Garda and pathology files were handed over. It’s difficult to imagine that the same level of cooperation would be agreed were the gardaí to attempt to investigate, for instance, the murder of an Irish citizen in Paris or London.
On 24 April 2010, Mr Bailey was arrested at his home for a third time in connection with the murder. This time it was on foot of a European Arrest Warrant to extradite him to France, where Mr Gachon wanted to question him. He was detained overnight and released on bail the following day. Effectively, the French felt his extradition was warranted on foot of evidence compiled in this jurisdiction, but which the DPP had felt was inadequate to pursue a prosecution.
The Irish government supported the request. If Mr Bailey were to be extradited, and jailed in France, that would have put paid to his civil action in this state, in the short term at least. Whether or not that was a consideration in supporting the request, there was major unease in some legal circles that the government was going down this route in dealing with a long time resident of the country, who had never been charged with the crime in question.
In March 2011, the High Court ruled that Mr Bailey could be extradited. An appeal to the Supreme Court was lodged. The following October, the stormtroopers of justice arrived in Cork airport.
A consignment of French detectives were here to investigate the fifteen year old murder on Irish soil. Their arrival was met with RTÉ cameras. They proceeded with their investigation over the following weeks, interviewing up to thirty people and receiving full co-operation from the gardaí. It was a surreal exercise, the French attempting to build a case on the quicksand foundations that had sunk their Irish colleagues.
Before the detectives departed, the saga had another twist. Former DPP Eamonn Barnes wrote to his old office, to relate the incident back in 1998 when he had received notice that gardaí had made the improper approach to the state solicitor’s office about getting the then minister for justice involved in the case.
A few days later, the 2001 review of the case compiled in the DPP’s office emerged into the public domain.
The 44-page document repeatedly referenced indications of Mr Bailey’s “innocence” and noted that the investigation had “destroyed” the quality of life for Mr Bailey and Ms Thomas.
It also contained a reference to neighbours who heard dogs barking for hours on the night in question, with some witnesses putting the commencement of the barking at 10pm, a time when Mr Bailey was known to be in a pub in Schull.
In the round, the document went further than just explaining why there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute, by actually criticising the efforts to pin the crime on Mr Bailey.
The Supreme Court appeal on Mr Bailey’s extradition began in early November, and the following February the court ruled to overturn the High Court’s decision to hand him over to the French. The documents emerging from the DPP’s office were only noted in passing in the ruling, and not considered central to the judges’ decisions.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, and the long buried memo from the DPP’s office, the European arrest warrant remains in place, largely confining Mr Bailey’s movement to this jurisdiction. During the extradition hearing, Mr Bailey described the cruellest effect of the warrant was that it prevented him travelling to see his mother in England before she died, or to attend her funeral.
In 2014, the High Court began hearing Bailey’s civil action against the state, the attorney general and the gardaí. The case opened on 4 November, when the jury were told to expect a six week trial. Nearly five months later, the finally delivered a verdict after 64 days during which 93 witnesses were heard. The jury dismissed all of Bailey’s claims for compensation.
In December 2015, Judge Gachon sent his file of 17 volumes and statements from more than 40 witnesses to the public prosecutor for Paris.
Last January, the investigation was taken up by Judge Nathalie Turquey with Ian Bailey still the main focus of inquiries.
In July of this year a fresh arrest warrant was issued for Ian Bailey, but it is unlikely to impact on his current status.
Daniel Du Plantier died in 2003. Sophie’s parents are still looking for justice, and for many years since their daughter’s brutal killing, they had travelled to west Cork to remember a woman who died in what still remains mysterious circumstances.
Ian Bailey and Jules Thomas continue to live in West Cork, despite what they claim has been the complete ruination of the life they knew prior to the murder and investigation.
Mr Bailey is seen in Schull and other west Cork towns selling vegetables in open air markets. In 2010, he graduated with a law degree from University College Cork. The publicity surrounding the murder of Ms Du Plantier put paid to his career in journalism.
The law that permits the French authorities the right to investigate the death of a French citizen overseas comes under Article 113.7 of the Penal Code in France.
One high-profile case in which it was used was overseen by judge Nathalie Turquey, the same judge investigating Ian Bailey under the same statute.
The case involves 41-year-old French actor Marie Trintignant who was killed by her rock singer husband Bertrand Cantat in 2003.
The couple had been in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Ms Trintignant was shooting a film about the writer Colette when she and Cantat had a row. The media reported she fell and hit her head against a wall and went into a coma. She failed to regain consciousness and was brought back to hospital in Paris, where she died. Cantat, lead singer with the French band Noir Désir 2003, was later convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Ms Trintignant and served a four-year jail sentence.
Judge Turquey’s appointment in January last to investigate Sophie Tuscan Du Plantier’s killing was welcomed by Alain Spilliaert, the lawyer advising the dead woman’s family.
“Nathalie Turquey is . . . a very experienced magistrate who has investigated many high-profile cases . . . so she is a very good choice to replace Judge Gachon who led the investigation for the past seven years,” he said.
“The Trintignant case had huge profile here because not only was Marie Trintignant a well-known actress, she was the daughter of actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and Bertrand Cantat was a leading rock star but Judge Turquey did a good job in the full glare of the media spotlight.”
English journalist, Ian Bailey, relocates to Ireland, lives in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford for a short time before moving to West Cork.
He later sets up home in Liscaha, Toormore near Schull with Welsh artist, Jules Thomas, and her three daughters.
Paris-based French film producer, Sophie Toscan du Plantier, buys a holiday home near Toormore between Schull and Goleen.
Ms Toscan du Plantier flies into Cork Airport from Paris for a brief holiday alone in West Cork. She is due to fly back to Paris three days later.
Her battered body is found around 10.30am by a neighbour, at the entrance to a laneway leading to her holiday home. Gardaí launch a murder investigation.
From a public phone box in Cork city, Marie Farrell uses the alias ‘Fiona’ and phones Bandon Garda Station. She says she saw a man by Kealfadda Bridge around 3am on the night of the murder.
Gardaí issue an appeal on Crimeline asking ‘Fiona’ to contact them.
From a phone box in Leap, Ms Farrell uses the alias ‘Fiona’ to again phone Bandon Garda Station.
She phones gardaí again using the same alias - the call is traced to the Farrell home in Schull.
Schoolboy, Malachi Reid gives a statement to gardaí that when giving him a lift home, Ian Bailey told him that he killed Ms Toscan du Plantier, saying that he “went up there with a rock and bashed her fucking brains out”.
Mr Bailey is arrested at home in connection with the murder. Ms Thomas is also arrested for questioning. Both are later released without charge.
A preliminary inquest into Ms du Plantier’s death is told she died from multiple injuries, including a fracture of the skull, caused by a blunt instrument.
A 2,000-page garda murder file is sent to the DPP but after queries from the DPP’s office in October, no charges are brought.
Justice Minister John O’Donoghue denies claims in the Dáil that requests by Ms du Plantier’s family for information on the murder file have been ignored.
Mr Bailey is arrested and questioned again, and released without charge.
State Solicitor for West Cork Malachy Boohig says he was approached by Det Chief Supt Sean Camon who asked him to press a Justice Minister to get the DPP to charge Mr Bailey.
Daniel Toscan du Plantier visits West Cork for the first time since the murder and is briefed by gardai in Bandon for two hours. He said: “There is an incredible difference in law between Irish law and French law - Irish law offers more protection to individuals. But when you are on the side of the victim it is more difficult to accept but obviously I accept Irish law.”
Ms Thomas is arrested a second time, and one of her daughters is also arrested. Both are released without charge.
Mr Bailey assaults Ms Thomas at their home. He later gets a three-month suspended sentence, and admits it was his third time assaulting her.
In a scathing report, Robert Sheehan, a solicitor in the DPP’s office, criticises the garda investigation of the case, and says the evidence does not warrant a prosecution.
The analysis prompts a garda review of the investigation. The review is carried out by Chief Supt Austin McNally.
Ms du Plantier’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol and her son, Pierre Louis Baudey, launch a civil action against Mr Bailey for her wrongful death.
In the wake of the McNally review, a new file on the case is submitted to the DPP James Hamilton who directs no prosecution.
Mr Bailey begins a libel action against eight newspapers, losing six cases and winning two.
It emerges that Ms Farrell has lied in a complaint to gardaí about Mr Bailey threatening her in Schull. Mr Bailey’s solicitor, Frank Buttimer, says his client was actually in his office at a time of the alleged threat.
Ms Farrell withdraws her statement placing Mr Bailey near the scene of the murder and says she was coerced into making the statement. This triggers another garda review into the investigation. It is led by Assistant Commissioner Ray McAndrew which was not published.
The civil action brought by Ms du Plantier’s family against Mr Bailey is withdrawn.
Mr Bailey launches a High Court action against the Justice Minister and the Garda Commissioner for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
Ms du Plantier’s family and friends launch The Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH) to campaign for justice for her.
As part of a French investigation into the murder, a French magistrate orders the exhumation of Ms du Plantier’s body.
Following the completion of the McAndrew Inquiry, the DPP recommends no prosecution. The garda file on the case is made available to the French authorities.
French Judges Patrick Gachon and Nathalie Dutartre visit the murder scene and meet gardaí who investigated the case.
Judge Gachon issues a European arrest warrant for Mr Bailey.
Mr Bailey is arrested at home and brought before the High Court, where he is granted bail pending a hearing of the extradition case.
Mr Bailey graduates from UCC with a law degree.
The High Court orders Mr Bailey’s surrender to the French authorities on foot of the arrest warrant, but grants him leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. He appeals.
A team of French police investigators and forensic experts visit Ireland, and interview up to 30 witnesses.
The Supreme Court rules in Mr Bailey’s favour, blocking any extradition. He subsequently makes a formal complaint to GSOC.
Lawyers for the Bouniols lodge a formal complaint against Ireland at the European Commission over the decision not to extradite Mr Bailey to France.
The Bouniols’s lawyers, Alain Spilliaert and ASSOPH’s lawyer in Ireland, James MacGuill, write to the Garda Commissioner Martin Callanan seeking a cold case review. Meanwhile, Mr Bailey complains that his phone has been illegally tapped for the past 16 years and Judge Carroll Moran is appointed to investigate.
The High Court orders the State to hand over documents to Mr Bailey in his civil action for damages.
It emerges that phone calls at Bandon Garda Station were recorded, and the Government says this will form part of the Fennelly inquiry.
The High Court orders GSOC to share material it has gathered during its investigation into Mr Bailey’s complaints against gardaí.
Mr Bailey’s High Court action for damages against the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner begins. It is expected to take six weeks. It runs for five months - hearing evidence from more than 90 witnesses over 64 days.
Mr Bailey loses the civil action. The jury finds against him on the two garda conspiracy charges they were asked to consider - whether gardaí conspired to implicate him in the murder of Ms du Plantier, and whether there was a garda conspiracy to obtain false statements from Marie Farrell. The jury was not asked to consider any wrongful arrest issue, because it was not taken within a specified legal period
French judge Nathalie Turquey orders a fresh arrest warrant for Mr Bailey.
Mr Bailey writes to the DPP Claire Loftus asking her to consider the French investigation file and review the DPP decision not to charge him.
He writes again in September and December asking for an update.
Sophie’s family have private ceremony in Paris to mark the 20th anniversary.
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