French seek Toscan du Plantier inquiry

Magistrate asks Minister for Justice to allow return of team of investigators


A French magistrate investigating the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork has written to the Irish authorities seeking permission for French investigators to return to Ireland to interview further witnesses in the case.

Judge Patrick Gachon has written to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in the past week seeking permission for a team of French investigators to come to Ireland in April or May to interview up to 30 named witnesses.

Some of the witnesses were interviewed by French police when they first came to Ireland in August 2011. French investigators want to clarify statements made to them on that occasion.

The list of witnesses also includes some people who were unavailable to meet the French investigators in 2011, while others have since been identified by Judge Gachon from the Garda file as having information that can assist his investigation.

If permission is granted by the Irish authorities, the French police will meet the witnesses on a voluntary basis, as happened in 2011, when the French team was accompanied in interviews by a garda. The interviews will be recorded on video.

Alain Spilliaert, lawyer for the family of Ms Toscan du Plantier, welcomed the development and said he hoped the Irish authorities would respond positively and speedily to the latest request from Judge Gachon for assistance.

“We hope that this would be fairly fast. This can be considered as the last step for the French inquiry before Judge Gachon closes it, probably around June, and then there is a short delay for the family’s lawyer to consider it and request any further actions.

“Then Judge Gachon transmits the file to the public prosecutor for Paris, Mr François Molins, for his opinion. After receiving that opinion, Judge Gachon will then write his final order, either saying no further action or an order seeking a trial against the main suspect,” he said.

News of the latest development comes days after lawyers for former journalist Ian Bailey (56) began High Court proceedings for discovery of Garda files on the murder for a civil legal action Mr Bailey is taking against the State for what he says is his wrongful arrest in the case.

Mr Bailey, who won a Supreme Court appeal in March 2012 against a French application to extradite him to France for the murder, also spoke last week about his continuing concern that the French will make a new application to have him extradited.

Mr Bailey told the RTÉ radio programme Liveline he expects the French authorities to try him in his absence in France for the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier and while the possible outcome of such a trial was hypothetical, he remained concerned.

Mr Bailey, who has always denied any involvement in the death of Ms Toscan du Plantier (39) at her holiday home near Schull in 1996, reiterated his willingness to assist her parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, in any way he can.

He said he had never been asked to meet the Bouniols nor was he aware of any request by them to meet him but he acknowledged their grief when questioned by Joe Duffy.

“One can understand that — they have suffered greatly and they have my sympathy for what it’s worth,” he said.

Mr Bailey said that although the French extradition warrant had been rejected by the Supreme Court in March 2012 it remains extant elsewhere in Europe and he was not willing to risk arrest by returning to the UK to visit family.

“This has cropped up and I thought about it but once you’ve been a piece of meat and you’ve just been put through the mincer, you are not necessarily rushing to put yourself back in that mincer again,” said Mr Bailey.