Briton’s trial in absentia begins in Paris over French woman’s murder in Ireland
Ian Bailey is being tried in absentia for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier on isolated hillside in Toormore, near Schull, west Cork.
The trial of a British man for the brutal murder of a French woman in a small town in Ireland has begun in Paris.
Ian Bailey, 62, is being tried in absentia for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier on isolated hillside in Toormore, near Schull, west Cork, two days before Christmas in 1996.
Bailey never stood trial for the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier – who was 39 when she died – although he was arrested twice and is said to have confessed to the killing on several occasions.
Bailey vehemently denies the murder and denies making any of the alleged confessions to friends and neighbours.
Manchester-born Bailey had lived in West Cork since the mid-1990s after quitting his career as a journalist and turning his hand to poetry.
Despite the scandal caused by the court case, he still lives in the area – running a business selling pizza at local markets with his partner Jules Thomas.
The failure to prosecute Bailey sparked allegations of incompetence and corruption against the local gardai and prompted the victim’s family to launch a campaign to have him extradited to France.
Ms Toscan du Plantier was married to the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a celebrated French film director who had close contacts with the upper echelons of government in Paris.
Ireland has twice refused to hand him over and the case is now being heard by a judge and two professional magistrates at the Cour d’Assises in Paris.
On the first day of trial, presiding judge Frederique Aline – the president of the court – read out the details of the brutal killing of Ms Toscan du Plantier.
The court heard that the victim suffered multiple blows to the head and body with a blunt object, and that a breeze block was lying close to her body covered in bloodstains.
The attack had been so violent that blood stains were found spattered up to a metre square around the body, and she was wearing only long johns, a T-shirt and walking boots without socks.
Judge Aline listed the many twists and turns of the case has taken over the years including the testimony of Marie Farrell – a local woman who initially claimed she had seen Bailey walking towards the victim’s home on the night of the killing, a claim she later retracted.
The court heard how in the days after the killing, several witnesses said Bailey had scratches in his hands and forearms, which he claimed he’d acquired while cutting down a Christmas tree.
The first live witness was private investigator Michel Larousse, who was tasked with giving evidence on the victim’s personality after conducting interviews with her friends and family.
He said Ms Toscan du Plantier was “very independent”, adding “at times she wanted to be with people and there were moments she wanted to be on her own”.
Mr Larousse said Sophie “wasn’t afraid of much” even in situations that carried a risk.
He gave the example of the time she had allowed a homeless person to sleep in her car, and the time she had invited another homeless man to have a meal with her.
Mr Larousse said the evidence indicated the person who killed Ms Toscan du Plantier was not someone she was afraid of and she didn’t see it coming.
The victim’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, who was 14 when she was murdered, has been at the forefront of the family’s campaign for justice and was seated in the court along with her brothers, uncle and parents.
The case in one of Ireland’s most high-profile unsolved murder cases and the circumstances around Ms Toscan du Plantier’s death have recently reached a global audience through the popular podcast series West Cork.
The trial has been scheduled for one week, with a day off on Thursday, with the court due to return its verdict on Friday.
Very few of the witnesses in the Irish investigation are expected to attend.
The court also heard evidence from French police officer Damien Roehrig, who made two trips to Schull in 2008 and 2011 to interview potential witnesses.
He said: “The local gardai didn’t have experience leading an investigation of this order.
“Early evidence was wasted and it wasn’t it wasn’t organised as it would have been if it had been led by police more used to this type of investigation.
“The people capable of leading this type of investigation arrived much later.”
He added that the gardai had been under a lot of pressure to crack the case.
Mr Roehrig said he had spoken to one witness who claimed that when he had asked Bailey if he had killed the victim, Bailey had replied: “Yes of course – it was to advance my career as a journalist.”
Another allegedly claimed Bailey had told him: “I did it, I did it. I went too far.”
The police officer described a conversation he had had with a neighbour who was just 14 at the time of the killing, who claimed Bailey had described cracking the victim’s skull with a rock.
Mr Roehrig said the witness had slept with an axe next to his bed for years after the alleged conversation.
He also described how Bailey had abused his partner so violently on three occasions he had put her in hospital.
One single mother allegedly told him Bailey had turned up at her house late at night apparently very drunk.
“She was very scared of him – but she also thought [Bailey] was someone who wanted to scare people,” Mr Roehrig said.
Late on Monday, the victim’s family left the court while photographs of Ms Toscan du Plantier’s battered body were shown on screens, as well as the blood spattered crime scene.
Despite the violence of the scene, no forensic evidence against Bailey was ever found.
Judge Aline asked Mr Roehrig if the comments Bailey allegedly made admitting the crime could have just been sarcasm.