Garda need DPP approval to request help from French police in west Cork case

Marie Farrell identified man seen near Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s house as associate of victim’s husband

Marie Farrell: Detectives have taken a statement from the former shopkeeper in which she identified a man she saw near Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s house on the night of her murder. Photograph: Courts Collins

Marie Farrell: Detectives have taken a statement from the former shopkeeper in which she identified a man she saw near Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s house on the night of her murder. Photograph: Courts Collins

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Gardaí will have to secure approval from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) if they are to seek assistance from French police in trying to establish whether a known associate of Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s husband was in west Cork at the time of her murder.

Detectives have taken a statement from former Schull shopkeeper Marie Farrell in which she identified a man she saw near Ms Toscan du Plantier’s house on the night of the murder as being an associate of Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a film producer who died in 2003.

Gardaí will, under Section 62 of the Criminal Justice Mutual Assistance Act 2008, have to submit a report on their investigation of Ms Farrell’s latest statement to the DPP, who must approve any request for the formal taking of statements or gathering of evidence by the French police. A letter from the DPP approving the request would then be sent to the Department of Justice, which in turn would pass the request to the French Ministry of Justice which would then forward it to French police.

The source said it was too early to predict the outcome of any such request, though there has been a lot of media speculation that the French are unlikely to co-operate on the basis that they believe the case is closed following the conviction of Ian Bailey for the murder at a trial in Paris in 2019.

Documentary

The latest twist in the long-running case came after filmmaker Jim Sheridan contacted gardaí two months ago to say he had found information pertinent to the investigation while making his documentary, Murder at the Cottage – The Search for Justice for Sophie.

He contacted gardaí about what Ms Farrell had told him just as his series was about to run on Sky Crime, though he did not include it in the documentary. He recently told the Sunday Independent that he could not comment on the significance of the information.

Ms Farrell told him that the man she saw at Kealfadda Bridge – some 2.6km from Ms Toscan du Plantier’s house on the night of the murder – was of sallow, Middle Eastern complexion.

She said the man she saw at the bridge at about 3am on December 23rd, 1996, around the time Ms Toscan du Plantier was murdered, was the same man she saw outside her shop on Main Street, Schull two days earlier.

Ms Farrell said the man appeared to be watching Ms Toscan du Plantier as she left her shop at around 3pm and had followed her, though there was no contact between the two. She did not name the man in the series.

Identification

It is understood that Ms Farrell has identified him as somebody she recognised when viewing photographs online of Mr Toscan du Plantier. Ms Farrell is understood to have been searching for pictures of Mr Toscan du Plantier, who married for a fourth time in 1998, and recognised the man she had seen around the time of the murder. She showed the photograph to Mr Sheridan when he was interviewing her for his documentary, and he recognised the man.

It is believed that Mr Sheridan organised for Ms Farrell to swear an affidavit regarding her identification of the man, which he then passed on to gardaí. It is understood that she last month made a detailed statement to gardaí from Skibbereen station over the course of a two-hour interview.

When contacted by The Irish Times this week, Ms Farrell declined to comment on the latest development.

Gardaí are expected to begin checking passenger lists for flights and ferry sailings into and out of Ireland around the time of the murder to see if they can find any bookings by the man, who was well known to Mr Toscan du Plantier.

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Reliability

The DPP’s office is familiar with Ms Farrell, with DPP solicitor Robert Sheehan in a 2001 report questioning the reliability of her original statement to gardaí about seeing a man, whom she later learned was Mr Bailey, at Kealfadda Bridge on the night of the murder.

Ms Farrell retracted that statement in 2005, stating Mr Bailey was not the man she saw and alleging that she was coerced into falsely identifying him by gardaí. She testified to that effect in Mr Bailey’s unsuccessful 2015 High Court action against the State for wrongful arrest.

Mr Justice John Hedigan, at the end of the High Court case, asked for a transcript of Ms Farrell’s evidence to be sent to the DPP, given she stated that she had lied when testifying in a 2003 libel action. It is understood that the DPP decided against prosecuting her for perjury.