herald

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Three witnesses will not travel to Sophie Paris trial

French authorities have been warned that at least three witnesses in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier (37) murder probe will not be able to attend any Paris trial.

British freelance journalist Ian Bailey (53) is fighting extradition to France where the authorities want to put him on trial over the mother-of-one's killing 15 years ago.

West Cork-based Mr Bailey -- who has consistently protested his innocence -- is now awaiting the outcome of his Supreme Court appeal against the extradition order.

Key witnesses -- who are to be interviewed by a team of French detectives next month -- refused to comment in advance of the police meetings.



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Bantry Gardai under Chief Supt Tom Hayes and Detective Inspector Joe Moore are liaising with the French team -- ordered to Ireland by Paris magistrate, Patrick Gachon -- about the interviews and statement reviews which will be taken in late September.

For the first time, the French team will include forensic experts who will be given direct access to evidence in the garda murder file.

A total of 31 witnesses -- most of whom gave evidence at the 2003 Circuit Court libel hearing taken by Mr Bailey against eight Irish and British newspapers -- have now agreed to co-operate with the French team.

However, at least three witnesses have now expressed concerns about attending any future Paris trial on health, age and business grounds.

While the French prosecutors will still be able to enter such statements into evidence, it will open such material to defence challenges.

One witness who has agreed to speak with the French team, Michael McSweeney, said he had "absolutely no problem" with the request.

"I was contacted by Bantry Gardai about it and I had no difficulty in meeting them [French detectives]," he said.

Shirley Foster -- Sophie's next door neighbour and the person who discovered her battered body on December 23, 1996 -- declined to comment at her Toormore, West Cork home.

Her partner, Alfie Lyons, said they were "very tired" of repeated media questions over the past 15 years.

"We have absolutely nothing to say. We know what is going on and we don't have anything to say. Over the past 15 years a lot of what has been said has been manipulated by the press," he said.

Other witnesses including James Camier, Josephine Hellen and Peter Bielecki were unavailable for comment.

It remains unclear whether the French team will seek to meet with Marie Farrell who was described as the 'star witness' at the 2003 libel hearing.

Mrs Farrell -- who previously operated a shop in Schull -- later recanted her sworn evidence about Mr Bailey and claimed she had only made key statements to gardai under duress.

A garda probe into her claims was launched but no prosecutions resulted.

No-one has ever been charged in relation to Sophie's killing despite one of the biggest murder probes in the history of the State.

Three years ago -- following appeals from Sophie's family -- the French authorities launched their own investigation.

In April 2010, they lodged a European Arrest Warrant to have Mr Bailey (53) extradited to Paris to stand trial.

The proposed Paris trial can still proceed even if Mr Bailey is not extradited. Mr Bailey was twice arrested by gardai but was released without charge on both occasions in 1997 and 1998.

Next month's trip marks the third time French investigators have travelled to Ireland.

Mr Bailey's solicitor, Frank Buttimer, has repeatedly insisted that his client cannot receive a fair trial in France.

hnews@herald.ie

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