Bailey case back in the spotlight

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The murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in 1996 is back in the news, with an application for extradition to France in court, and her parents pilgrimage for her anniversary

IT MAY have happened almost a decade and a half ago, but the murder of the French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier has a greater topicality this December than it has had for many other anniversaries.

France has issued a European arrest warrant for Ian Bailey in connection with the unsolved murder of Toscan du Plantier at her holiday home in west Cork in December 1996. Bailey’s name has become inextricably linked with that of the petite 39-year-old mother of one, whose badly beaten body was found outside her holiday home at Toormore, near Schull, on the morning of December 23rd, 1996.

Bailey, a Manchester-born former journalist, was twice arrested by the Garda for questioning about the killing but released without charge on each occasion. He has continually protested his innocence of any involvement in Toscan du Plantier’s death. Following the launch of an investigation in France by magistrate Patrick Gachon in 2008, the French authorities have sought to have the 53-year-old extradited to France for questioning about the death.

On Thursday Mr Justice Michael Peart heard arguments from legal teams representing both Bailey and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern about whether Bailey is to be extradited.

Martin Giblin SC, for Bailey, evoked Kafka, focusing on the facts of the case in his bid to discredit the French application to have his client sent to France. He cited the fact that the DPP confirmed in correspondence last July that the case against Bailey had been examined after his arrest in 1997 and other occasions since and no decision to prosecute had ever been taken. And he pointed to the “extraordinary anomaly” that the case on which the DPP decided not to prosecute was the basis on which the French authorities were seeking Bailey’s extradition, as they had uncovered no new evidence in France.

The French application was “an insult to the Irlsh legal system and an insult to the Irish State and a profound insult in the legal sense to Mr Bailey’s constitutional, statutory and personal rights and human rights”, said Giblin. He read from an affadavit from Bailey, now a postgraduate law student at UCC, in which Bailey spoke of the distress he and his partner, Jules Thomas, have had to endure since learning through the media of this French investigation.

Robert Barron SC, for the State, was less colourful, focusing on the legislation. More than once he said a submission by Giblin was a road leading nowhere, as the particular point was superseded by some aspect of legislation, such as the 2005 Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act. He said the 2005 Act amended the 2003 European Arrest Warrant Act to precisely permit the extradition of people investigated, but not charged, in Ireland to answer charges abroad arising out of the same offence.

He said if the French application was “an insult” to the Irish legal system, the insult was delivered by the Oireachtas, as it was the legislature that gave the power to extradite even if the DPP decides against a prosecution in Ireland.

And he rebutted Giblin’s suggestion that the European arrest warrant did not address the fact that a witness in the case, Marie Farrell, retracted her statement that she saw Bailey at Kealfadda Bridge at about 3am the morning after Toscan du Plantier’s death. The strength of evidence against a suspect was not a factor in an extradition hearing but could be considered at the trial stage, he said.

Peart is expected to deliver his reserved judgment early in the new year.

Toscan du Plantier’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, flew into Cork this week, aware the extradition hearing was taking place but insistent it was not the reason for their visit. Marguerite Bouniol said she and her husband hope and pray they will live long enough to see an end they are satisfied with. The Bouniols were travelling to Toormore to attend an anniversary mass in nearby Goleen tomorrow for their daughter. “We have not come because of what is going to happen in the High Court in Dublin. We will leave that to the justice system. This visit is like a pilgrimage for us every year . . .

“Sophie loved Ireland so much, and by coming we want to show that we, too, love Ireland, and we come every year because she suffered so much when she was so killed so brutally. I want to suffer too, and coming every year to Toormore and seeing where she was killed is like a punishment for me, because I relive what she went through that terrible night.”

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