Solicitor Frank Buttimer has defended the Garda decision to hold a cold case review into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork, saying he expects it to be a thorough and professional examination of the investigation into the 1996 murder of the 39 year-old French film producer.
Mr Buttimer who has represented the chief suspect, Ian Bailey, for almost 20 years, said he had been asked by one radio interviewer on Thursday if he thought the decision to ask the Garda Serious Crime Review team to look at the case was anything more than “a box-ticking exercise”.
“I totally reject that; this idea that it is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise. I think this a genuine attempt by the police force of Ireland to address this outstanding, unresolved crime and it is being done by gardaí out of a professional sense of concern and honour and duty.
“I really do think there is a genuine feeling within the guards that this case merits a full review. A decision like this cannot be made lightly because it’s a huge commitment of resources, so I think it’s an honest attempt by the current team of investigators to get to the truth for once and for all.”
Mr Buttimer said he knew many of the officers involved in the current investigation and he had no doubt they would be very keen to solve the crime and help bring Ms Toscan du Plantier’s killer to justice so that her family would get some closure.
“They have a bona fide motivation, firstly from the point of the family and secondly, I think they are also highly conscious of the reputation of An Garda Síochána. I believe that it is a genuine attempt to look at a case afresh to see if there is any line of inquiry that they can pursue.”
However, he also predicted that this review would be the last, coming as it does after both the McNally Review in 2002 and the McAndrew Review in 2005. “I really do think this will be the final attempt at solving this crime once and for all.”
Mr Buttimer said he was not hopeful about the potential of forensics to throw up new leads, as even new techniques were dependent on the quality of samples taken at the crime scene 26 years ago when Ms Toscan du Plantier was murdered near her holiday home in Toormore.
He said he believed any new leads were more likely to come from witnesses, but he was not aware of any new credible information provided to the Garda in the last 12 months since the airing of two separate documentaries about the killing on Sky Crime and Netfix last summer.
However, the Cork-based solicitor was highly critical of the original Garda investigation which led to Mr Bailey being twice arrested and questioned about the killing only for the Director of Public Prosecutions to dismiss the Garda file against him.
“There is not a doubt in the world that the original investigation team could have done a much better job; without question mistakes were made and were made from the off, leading them to wrongly identify my client, Ian Bailey, as a suspect in the case.
“One of the greatest mistakes that was made was the huge commitment of resources, targeting one individual, my client, Mr Bailey, so quickly into the investigation and then piling in on top of him to construct this narrative around him that he was the suspect and the only suspect.
“I have no doubt but that if resources hadn’t been all targeted at Mr Bailey and people had kept an open mind and invested resources in a much broader investigation, it would have led to other lines of inquiry that might well have been profitably explored.”
According to informed Garda sources, investigators believe that there are people in west Cork with key information about the murder who have not come forward so far because they may have been in fear of the killer or possibly under their influence or control.
“Over a quarter of a century has passed since the killing and we have seen in other cases where somebody may have been under a suspect’s influence or control but with the passage of time, that control or influence wanes, and the person comes forward with information,” said one source.
“Similarly, the team investigating the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier will be hoping that people with information, who, for whatever reason, were unable to come forward in the past, may now find themselves in a position to come forward because circumstances have changed.”
Former solicitor Elio Malocco tweeted last March that he had learned that a solicitor had contacted the DPP’s office on behalf of a client to inquire if they could be offered immunity from prosecution if they came forward with information about the murder.
Mr Malocco, who has written a book about the murder entitled Killing Sophie, did not identify either the solicitor or their client, but it did lead to speculation that there may be a witness with vital information which could lead to somebody being charged.
It is understood that any such request to the DPP for immunity from prosecution must come from a garda of at least assistant commissioner rank. The Irish Times has not been able to establish to date if any such request has been made by any senior officer.
Among those to come forward with new information in the past year was local woman Marie Farrell who, after retracting a statement in 2005 that a man she saw at Kealfadda bridge on the night of the murder was Ian Bailey, has now identified the man as an associate of the murdered woman’s husband.
Last July, Ms Farrell contacted film-maker Jim Sheridan after she featured in his documentary about the case, Murder at the Cottage – The Search for Justice for Sophie, to say that she had been searching for images of Daniel Toscan du Plantier and had seen the man in a photograph with him.
Mr Sheridan was able to identify the man, who has an involvement in the film world, and he subsequently arranged for Ms Farrell to swear an affidavit, identifying the man as the man she saw on the night of the murder at Kealfadda bridge. She later met with senior gardaí in west Cork to confirm the affidavit.
Gardaí have checked out flight and ferry manifests to Ireland for the days surrounding the murder but have found no evidence of the man travelling to Ireland; while it is understood French police are still seeking to speak to him about his whereabouts in December 1996 when the murder happened
“Obviously we are aware Marie Farrell has changed her story from her first version that it was Ian Bailey she saw to this most recent version, but we have to check out every lead – so far though, we have found nothing to suggest the man she named was in Ireland at the time of Sophie’s murder.”