Toscan du Plantier homicide trial hears of Cork ‘haven’

Bereft husband Daniel a ‘great seducer of women’ until falling for Sophie’s charms

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was characterised in court as ‘an exceptional person’. File photograph: PA

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was characterised in court as ‘an exceptional person’. File photograph: PA

 

The west Cork home was her “secret garden” when she needed “calm and silence”, Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s homicide trial in France heard on Tuesday.

On the second day of Ian Bailey’s trial in absentia for the voluntary homicide of Toscan du Plantier, witnesses described the personality and character of the French woman murdered outside her holiday home in west Cork in the early hours of December 23rd, 1996.

Former head of the Cannes film festival Gilles Jacob was a close friend of the victim’s late husband, film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier. He said it is important to understand why a woman would go to an isolated part of Ireland alone, just before Christmas.

His conquests were actresses: Marie-Christine Barrault, Isabelle Huppert, Isabella Rossellini, Francesca Comencini

Jacob said he and Daniel Toscan du Plantier contributed a great deal to French cinema during the 1980s and 1990s. Toscan du Plantier was a roving ambassador for UniFrance, the film promotion board. “He was brilliant and very well known,” said Jacob.

Daniel Toscan du Plantier “was a great seducer of women”, said Jacob. Until he met Sophie Bouniol, his conquests were actresses: Marie-Christine Barrault, Isabelle Huppert, Isabella Rossellini, Francesca Comencini.

Sophie Bouniol was a press attache for UniFrance and for the Cannes festival when Toscan du Plantier met her. “He was crazy about her. . . It was difficult to resist Daniel’s charm.”

Jacob first met Sophie at Toscan du Plantier’s manor at Ambax, Haute Garonne, in 1991. Jacob visited so often that Daniel found him a house to purchase nearby.

Daniel Toscan du Plantier “wanted to show Sophie off” but “she wanted to exist in her own right. She didn’t want to be ‘the wife of’ ”, said Jacob. “Daniel’s world was exhausting. The phone was always ringing. Sometimes Sophie needed calm and silence.”

Jacob said the victim also “needed to stand up to her husband, to show him that despite his conquests, he had to pay attention to her. Sometimes she would just disappear and Toscan du Plantier would look for her all over Paris.”

She could stay with her best friend, Agnès Thomas, who had worked with her at UniFrance.

Jacob was close to the victim for five years before her death. They communicated often by fax; she confided in him. The courtroom listened, captivated, to the testimony of the distinguished white-haired man, now 88 years old.

Jacob was with Daniel Toscan du Plantier at Ambax on the day of the murder

Other people were obsessed by their appearance when they walked up the red carpet at Cannes. “Not Sophie. For me, she represented real life; she had remained herself, which is very difficult in that milieu.”

Jacob was with Daniel Toscan du Plantier at Ambax on the day of the murder. They heard on the television news that a French woman had been murdered in Ireland and said, “it can’t be Sophie!” Then the French ambassador telephoned with the news.

“The image I remember of Sophie is her serene face, with her beautiful dark eyes, always smiling,” said Jacob. “She lived in a luxurious milieu. It may be given to you, but it costs dearly.”

Judge Frédérique Aline asked Jacob if the victim tried to be seductive or provocative. “On the contrary,” he replied. “She had beautiful clothes, but her’s was an old-fashioned beauty . . . She was always discreet. She never spoke about sex or feelings. I cannot imagine the slightest trace of provocation or incitation. She had a sort of reserve.”

Laurent Petiti, a lawyer for the family, asked why Daniel Toscan du Plantier never visited the house he bought for Sophie in Ireland and why he did not travel to Ireland after her murder.

Jacob thought Daniel respected his wife’s wish to preserve her “secret garden”. He said he had never seen anyone as upset as Daniel when his wife was murdered. But he “did not have the courage” to go to Ireland. “Producers are not particularly brave people,” he concluded. “I have known many who won’t tell you something face to face.”

Agnès Thomas, Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s best friend, described her as “joyous, lively, with a sunny beauty, very generous. She was passionate about her work. She loved art, literature, music, and wrote a great deal. She was really an exceptional person.”

She found him strange and was wary. I told her to be careful

To this day, Thomas said she feels guilty that she declined Toscan du Plantier’s invitation to accompany her to west Cork in December 1996. “If I had gone, she might be alive,” she said.

Shortly before Sophie Toscan du Plantier went to Ireland, “she told me she’d received a telephone call from a man who wrote poems. She found him strange and was wary. I told her to be careful.”

At the time of her death “everything was going well” for Toscan du Plantier, said Thomas. She was enjoying producing television documentaries. She was reconciled with her husband and they wanted to have a child together.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was fearless. “She took care of people. She was protective,” said Thomas. “If someone needed help and knocked on her door in the middle of the night, she would open it.”