A French police team investigating the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier have been forced to delay their planned visit to Ireland because gardaí familiar with the case are busy complying with a court order to make available large amounts of documents on the murder to Englishman Ian Bailey.
According to Garda sources, a team of detectives has been working since May 10th going through 20,000 documents to have the relevant material ready to give to Mr Bailey's lawyers by the August 4th deadline set by Mr Justice John Hedigan in the High Court.
French magistrate Patrick Gachon had requested permission from the Irish authorities in March to send a team of investigators to Ireland to interview up to 30 witnesses as part of his inquiry into the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier near Schull in west Cork in 1996.
A French team already visited Ireland in October 2011 and were accompanied by a team of Irish detectives familiar with the case.
The same team had done some preparatory work by contacting the witnesses the French team wished to speak to on this occasion.
Action for damages
However, on May 10th last, Mr Bailey won a High Court order for discovery of documents relating to the Garda investigation into the killing in preparation for a civil action he is bringing for damages against the State for wrongful arrest in the case.
Mr Bailey was arrested in February 1997 and January 1998 for questioning about the killing but was never charged and has always denied any involvement in the death of Ms Toscan du Plantier.
“There’s been a huge amount of material to go through while there have also been some meetings with counsel for the state, Paul O’Higgins, to decide what is relevant under the court order so the team have been fully occupied with this,” said a source.
Alain Spilliaert, lawyer for Ms Toscan du Plantier's parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, said this most recent delay was disappointing as the family had hoped the French investigation by Judge Gachon would be wrapped up by September.
"We had hoped the French investigators would have been able to come to Ireland in May or June and complete their work so Judge Gachon could conclude his inquiry by September but this is going to delay matters by at least two months," said Mr Spilliaert.
“Hopefully the Garda will be able to receive the French investigators in September so that Judge Gachon can complete his work before the end of the year – it’s another delay for the family so it’s disappointing but it’s not a cause for despair.”
News of the delay comes as Mr Bailey's partner, Jules Thomas, goes to the High Court today to seek a similar order for discovery in a civil action which she is bringing against the State for wrongful arrest.
Ms Thomas of The Prairie, Liscaha, Schull, Co Cork, has brought an action for damages against the State for wrongful arrest and is now seeking copies of any correspondence between gardaí and the DPP and any other documents relating to her arrests in 1997 and 2000.