French investigation into murder to continue

Fri, Mar 2, 2012, 00:00

INQUIRIES IN FRANCE:IAN BAILEY could face trial in his absence in France after police and lawyers confirmed that a French investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier would continue despite yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling.

Both a French police spokesman and a lawyer acting for Ms Toscan du Plantier’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, said Mr Bailey (55) was likely to be tried in his absence in France for the murder.

Home attaché at the French embassy in London Eric Battesti said he had spoken to investigating magistrate Judge Patrick Gachon in Paris after the Supreme Court ruling and the French investigation into the murder would continue.

Mr Battesti said French investigators would return to Ireland in the coming months to interview more witnesses and the investigation was likely to lead to Mr Bailey facing a criminal trial in absentiain Paris.

It could take over a year for the case to come to trial and if Mr Bailey was convicted, the French authorities would then seek his extradition to France, not for indictment but as a convicted person to serve a sentence, he said.

Mr Battesti’s comments were echoed by a lawyer for Mr and Mrs Bouniol, Alain Spilliaert, who said that while such a scenario would be frustrating for them, they accepted it was the best option available after yesterday’s ruling.

“Ideally they would like to see Mr Bailey on trial in France where he can be cross-examined so that they can find out the truth about what happened to their daughter, so they would find a trial in his absence very frustrating.

“They are very disappointed by the ruling of the Irish Supreme Court but they recognise that a trial in absentiais now the best avenue open to them and the French justice system in seeking to get justice for their daughter.”

Mr Spilliaert continued: “Today was a very difficult day for the family and it was a big shock to them because they were confident after the High Court judgment, which was well argued, so we were concerned for them because they are both elderly.

“For that reason, today’s ruling puts a trial back a year or more and time is our enemy, but we remain very determined and the fight will go on. Our quest for justice has been delayed, not defeated.”

However, Mr Bailey’s solicitor Frank Buttimer said they had argued the French might seek to try his client in absentia if he won his appeal but he knew of no one having been extradited from Ireland after being convicted elsewhere in absentia.

“We raised that issue in the course of our objection and in the course of our appeal and that is a matter for the French authorities. It is something that we will look at in due course.”

Mr Buttimer confirmed that he would be consulting their French lawyer, Dominic Tricaud, to try to set aside the European arrest warrant for Mr Bailey in France as it was still extant and prevented his client from travelling outside Ireland. “We will be looking at the ongoing potential consequences of the warrant in that it interferes with Mr Bailey’s freedom of travel and there are clear issues that will have to be addressed in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Following yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, Mr Bailey, flanked by his partner Jules Thomas, thanked his legal team and paid tribute to the Supreme Court judges for their considered and prompt treatment of the case.

“I would like to stress my appreciation to Jules who has stood by me through thick and thin, our families, our friends and our supporters in west Cork and further afield,” said Mr Bailey.

“On a personal note I am obviously relieved that this particular part of the proceedings is over. It has been very, very hard – on Jules in particular – you wouldn’t be able to believe the hell we’ve been put through by this awfulness.”

Mr Buttimer echoed Mr Bailey’s comments, pointing out that the judgment allowing the appeal was unanimous by all five judges, which confirmed his long-held belief that the extradition application was “misguided”.

“You have absolutely no idea of the life that Mr Bailey and indeed his partner Jules Thomas has had to lead, not just in relation to the extradition but in relation to the 15 years he has been wrongly associated with this terrible crime.”

Mr Buttimer challenged politicians to examine what had happened to his client in terms of “a misguided” police investigation and “a misguided” attempt to have him extradited to France.

Mr Buttimer also confirmed that Mr Bailey and Ms Thomas would be proceeding with their action against the State for wrongful arrest on foot of a statement since retracted by a key witness, Marie Farrell.

He said that they would use material disclosed to them by the State in the extradition appeal in their action against the State, including a highly critical review of the Garda handling of the case by an officer in the DPP’s office.

The Supreme Court decision was also welcomed by civil liberties group Fair Trials International, which said it marked a firm stand by Ireland against attempts to misuse the European Union’s fast-track extradition laws.