herald

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Crucial witnesses 'will not travel to Paris for Sophie murder trial'

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered in 1996
Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered in 1996

A number of key witnesses in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case have indicated they do not intend to travel to Paris for the opening day of Ian Bailey's trial in absentia.

Mr Bailey (60) will go on trial before the Cour d'Assize/Criminal High Court charged with the murder of the 39-year-old French mother-of-one in west Cork 22 years ago.

The freelance journalist, law graduate and poet has consistently protested his innocence -and dismissed the Paris hearing as "a show trial".

Ms du Plantier was beaten to death on an isolated lane leading to her Toormore holiday home outside Schull as she apparently tried to flee from an intruder on December 23, 1996.

Mr Bailey said he believes he has already been convicted in Paris - and that the French intend to lodge a third bid to have him extradited from Ireland.

However, it has now emerged that a number of high-profile witnesses from the original garda murder investigation do not intend to travel to Paris because of logistical issues.

This is despite a personal appeal from Ms du Plantier's son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud (37), who travelled to west Cork last weekend.

"For 20 years I have trusted you [the people of west Cork]. Do not betray me. Do not betray yourselves," he said.

In an impassioned appeal, he urged all witnesses contacted to attend the Paris trial.

However, while the majority of the garda murder case witnesses had agreed to co-operate with the French prosecutors, a variety of factors has meant a significant number are not now able to travel to Paris.

Discredited

The problems range from the short notice issued, the fact all witnesses must pay their own expenses before being reimbursed and the inability to inform witnesses precisely when their evidence will be heard.

More than 30 people received written requests from the prosecutor to attend the trial.

It is understood around a dozen have indicated they may be able to attend - with six already confirmed.

A number of former gardai are expected to attend.

The trial will take place before a panel of three judges and is set to last at least a week.

If Irish witnesses decline to travel to Paris for the hearing, their statements can still be offered in evidence.

The probe was launched a decade ago when the Director of Public Prosecutions ruled that there was little likelihood of a charge being levelled in Ireland.

In 2001, the DPP ruled out any action against Mr Bailey.

Mr Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, said it was "incredible" that the French were pursuing a prosecution based on material that was already rejected or discredited in Ireland.

Mr Bailey said it was the latest chapter in "a nightmare which has destroyed my life".

"I am actually an innocent man and what will happen in France is that they will probably celebrate the fact that I have been convicted and believe me to be the killer," he said.

Manchester-born Mr Bailey - who is retraining as a specialist wood artist - has protested his innocence and said "sinister attempts" were made to frame him for the killing.

He said the French prosecution was effectively "a tragedy for the truth".

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