The Garda decision to establish a cold case review into the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier while sudden, was not unexpected given the attention the case has garnered internationally in recent years.
The screening of two separate documentary TV series in 2021, Murder at the Cottage by Jim Sheridan and Sophie: A Murder in West Cork by John Dower, about the murder of the 39-year-old French film producer at her west Cork holiday home helped focus the spotlight on the unsolved murder of the mother of one.
The documentaries followed on from the success of West Cork, an audible podcast series on the murder by producers Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde which helped bring the story to an international audience in 2018.
Perhaps equally critical was the intervention of Ms Toscan du Plantier’s son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud, particularly after the High Court refused in 2020 to extradite the chief suspect, Ian Bailey, to France following the issuing of a European Arrest Warrant for him by the French justice system. Mr Bailey has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.
The Irish Times understands that Mr Baudey-Vignaud had pressed for a cold case review of his mother’s murder when he met senior officers in west Cork last October. He emphasised the need for the Garda to press ahead with a new investigation particularly given the High Court had refused the French request to extradite Mr Bailey to France to serve the 25-year sentence imposed on him in absentia in 2019.
The actual decision to set up the review follows a scoping exercise by a team of detectives from the Serious Crime Review team under Det Supt Des McTiernan, who spent over six months examining the file and seeing whether the investigation had the potential to be progressed. He reported back to Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll who recommended the full review prior to his retirement on Wednesday.
The Irish Times understand the review team will begin its examination next month and it will based at Bantry Garda station. It is expected that a key part of the review will focus on forensic evidence gathered at the postmortem and from a technical search of the crime scene.
However, what new material the team is likely to uncover is not immediately obvious as it will be the fourth investigation into the murder following the original investigation, the McNally Review in 2002 and the McAndrew Review in 2005.
Add to this a Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission investigation into a complaint by Mr Bailey about the original investigation along with his libel action against newspapers in 2003 and his High Court action against the State in 2014 and it might well appear there is little left to be uncovered .
As well as that, there is also the complicating factor that a number of key witnesses in the case such Alfie Lyons, James Camier, Rosie Shelley, Martin Graham, Richard Leftwick, Patrick Lowney, Ursula Jackson, Padraig Beirne and Paul Webster have all died, as well as several gardaí from the original investigation.
Among the aspects of the case which the review team will be asked to check out is a statement made by key witness Marie Farrell last year, after Sheridan’s documentary was broadcast, in which she identified the man she saw at Kealfadda Bridge, close to the murder scene, on the night Ms Toscan du Plantier was killed as an associate of the dead woman’s husband Daniel.
A garda source told The Irish Times: “The local team have already done a lot of work since the documentaries came out last year, following up on leads and while a lot of witnesses have died since 1996, it never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes look at a case and bring a new perspective to bear.”