Belfast Telegraph

Ian Bailey to face murder trial in France over death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier

By Ralph Riegel

Ian Bailey (59) will face a murder trial in France later this year over the 1996 death of mother-of-one Sophie Toscan du Plantier (39).

Mr Bailey has now been indicted for the murder of the film executive by the French authorities – and formal court papers were served on Mr Bailey at his west Cork home by Gardaí acting on behalf of the Parisauthorities.

Mr Bailey and his legal team have repeatedly predicted that the Frenchwill attempt to stage “a show trial” in Paris.

He will be tried in absentia, which is permitted under French law, after the Irish authorities refused to extradite him to France almost five years ago.

The Supreme Court rejected a French extradition bid lodged under a European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The French confirmation that a murder trial will proceed is understoodto be the first formal communication Mr Bailey has had with the Paris prosecutors.

Last month, members of Sophie’s family attended a special memorial Mass in west Cork to mark the 20th anniversary of her brutal killing.

Sophie’s son and brother vowed that their fight for justice will never stop.

Now, the French authorities will consider allowing elderly or infirm Irish witnesses to offer evidence in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder trial via video-link.

Prosecutors want the Paris Criminal Court trial, now expected in late 2017, to involve as many witnesses as possible from the original Garda investigation into Sophie’s murder on December 23 1996.

Almost 40 witnesses will be invited to offer evidence at the Paris trial including Sophie’s Toormore neighbours, retired Garda officers and both Goleen and Schull locals.

It will also include a battery of forensic and technical evidence.

The trial was signalled after French authorities sanctioned a prosecution following an eight year investigation by Magistrates Patrick Gachon and Nathalie Turquey.

The French investigation was launched following pressure from Sophie’s family after the Irish authorities admitted no prosecution was ever likely to take place here over the murder of the mother of one.

Sophie was found battered to death on the laneway leading to her isolated holiday home at Toormore outside Schull on December 23 1996.

She had been scheduled to fly back to France later that day to spend Christmas with her family.

No-one has ever been charged with the killing in Ireland.

Under French law, the trial can take place in Paris even if British freelance journalist, Ian Bailey (59), is not present.

Mr Bailey, who has vehemently protested his innocence in relation to the matter, successfully fought extradition to France in 2012.

He was twice arrested by Gardaí in 1997 and 1998 for questioning in relation to the matter but was released without charge on both occasions.

Mr Bailey has claimed that “sinister” attempts were made to “stitch me up” for the crime.

His legal team said they will fight any fresh extradition bid from Paris – and dismissed the prosecution in absentia as both “an outrage” and “a show trial.”

Mr Bailey has now pleaded with the Irish authorities to mount a prosecution here over the killing of the French mother-of-one so he can finally clear his name.

Judicial officials have privately ruled out any such move.

Mr Bailey has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to ask for an Irish prosecution despite the fact the DPP ruled out such a move in 2001 due to lack of evidence.

"It has been a nightmare - no one should be expected to try to live like this," he said.

Irish Independent sources indicated that such a prosecution is highly unlikely given the various Circuit, High and Supreme Court actions surrounding the issue since 2003.

Under French law, Mr Bailey can be prosecuted even if he is not present at the Paris proceedings.

If he refuses to acknowledge or co-operate with the trial process, it is unlikely that a defence will be mounted for him.

The trial will be a non-jury hearing and will be heard before a panel of three magistrates.

The trial will be held in Paris and the magistrates will all be drawn from a panel of those who are very experienced in criminal hearings.

French law also allows for witness statements to be introduced during the trial even if they are not present.

Statements from witnesses who are now deceased can also be introduced in evidence.

However, the Paris authorities are keen for all invited witnesses to attend and will cover all travel and subsistence costs for Irish-based witnesses to travel to France.

In cases where witnesses are willing to testify but are unable to travel, evidence via video-link will now be considered by the Paris prosecutor.

The eight year investigation by the two French magistrates included re-interviewing all the original Garda murder file witnesses, tracing new witnesses, exhuming Sophie’s body and conducting a battery of forensic tests.

All the witnesses re-interviewed were recorded by French detectives with video evidence options also available to the Paris prosecutor.

Sophie’s son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud (35), her family and the ASSOPH support association welcomed the impending French trial and paid tribute to Magistrates Nathalie Turquey and Patrick Gachon for their work since 2008.

“It is very good news – it is news that we have waited a very long time for,” Mr Baudey-Vignaud said.

“It is news that we have waited 20 years for.”

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