Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son: ‘The truth will be established’

Twenty years after this mother’s death near Schull, her son has not given up on justice

 

Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud is the son of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the French woman murdered near Schull in west Cork on December 23, 1996.

Now aged 35, he will be in France today, along with his wife and two children, to quietly observe the 20th anniversary of the death of his mother, who was brutally beaten to death on a track near her holiday cottage.

Starting a family was a victory for Pierre Louis, the only child of a divorced couple who lost his mother as an adolescent.

“It’s what I wanted. I am proud of having achieved it,” he says.

He met his wife Aurelia when they worked for Ernst & Young. Today, their priority is ensuring they have the best Christmas possible for Sophie (4) and Louis (3), the grandchildren Ms Toscan du Plantier never met.

Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, the victim’s parents, are too frail to travel to west Cork, as they did often in the past.

Pierre Louis and his uncle, Bertrand Bouniol, Ms Toscan du Plantier’s brother, will attend an annual memorial Mass at Goleen in mid-January.

The unsolved murder remains cause célèbre in France, where it is widely perceived as a miscarriage of Irish justice.

Renewed interest

In July, the French judge Nathalie Turquey ordered that Ian Bailey, an English man living in west Cork, be tried for voluntary homicide and issued a second European arrest warrant for him. Ireland is expected to again refuse to extradite Mr Bailey, and he is likely to be tried in absentia.

The completion of the nine-year French investigation, combined with the murder’s anniversary, has brought renewed media interest in France.

So far this year, it has been covered in 40 newspaper, radio and television reports.

“Bailey was the first suspect,” Pierre Louis said in a CAPA Presse TV documentary broadcast by M6 channel this month. “There has never been any other suspect, any other leads. Everything points towards him.”

Pierre Louis was at the home of his paternal grandparents in the Sologne region of central France when his mother was murdered.

On learning the news that his ex-wife had been murdered, Pierre Louis’s father, Pierre Jean Baudey, drove from Paris to break the news to his son.

Though 20 years have passed, Pierre Louis is reluctant to talk about that moment.

“It’s too intimate, too difficult to express,” he says. “It was an earthquake. There is my life before and my life after. It’s indescribable, as if I suddenly became a cripple.

“If they had cut both my arms off, it would have been less serious. I was an only child. I had always lived with her. For 10 years after the divorce, it was her and me only. I was everything for her and she was everything for me.”

Until Sophie remarried, she and Pierre Louis had lived in an apartment in Les Halles in Paris, near her parents’ home and the church where she was baptised. The apartment was so small they slept in the same room.

“My father really entered my life when my mother died,” Pierre Louis says. “He started taking care of me, wanted to protect me.”

Today, the Baudeys, father and son, are business partners.

“The next day we cleaned the horses’ stalls and went riding,” Pierre Louis continues. “He made me understand that life goes on.”

Pierre Louis had spent the five years before her death living with Sophie and her second husband, the film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, in their mansion on the rue des Martyrs, in Paris’s ninth district.

He says his late stepfather, who died in 2003, “had an artistic temperament” and was “the most fragile person” after Sophie’s murder.

“Daniel remarried very quickly. His new wife threw me out of the house, and he was weak enough to let her do it,” Pierre Louis recalls. “She told me: ‘Daniel is not your father and we are not your family. We don’t want you’.”

However, his stepmother Melita Toscan du Plantier remembers differently, saying she “forgives Pierre Louis for transforming the truth, because he suffered so much from the death of his mother.

‘Wounded adolescent’

“He couldn’t bear Daniel starting a new life. I remember how furious he was when I told him I was pregnant. He didn’t like me. He was a wounded adolescent.

“But it was obvious that he wasn’t going to live with us when he had a father, who is a good father, and who wanted Pierre Louis to be with him,” she told The Irish Times.

Amid the two-decades-long legal saga, the personality of the victim has often been forgotten.

“She was an intellectual who loved art in all its forms – painting, literature, music,” says Pierre Louis, who often accompanied his mother to exhibitions.

“She was interested in how humans express emotion. She was profoundly humanistic. For example, she used to photograph tramps in Paris, to try to convey the humanity in them.”

His mother was talkative but disliked publicity and superficial socialising, Pierre Louis recalls. “Yet, she had access to extraordinary people.”

Satyajit Ray, Constantin Costa-Gavras and Andrzej Wajda were among the film directors she knew through Daniel Toscan du Plantier, who headed the film promotion board UniFrance.

‘I’m indispensable’

“Her meeting with Daniel was like something out of a novel,” Pierre Louis continues. Sophie Bouniol was head of communications when Daniel was appointed. He followed his predecessor’s advice and tried to fire her.

“She told him, ‘Get lost. You just arrived and you can’t treat me that way. Besides, I’m indispensable to UniFrance.’ Toscan was not used to being talked to that way.”

When Daniel told Ms Bouniol he wanted to date her, “She said, ‘You have to write to my mother’, which made him even more crazy about her,” Pierre Louis recounts.

“She knew how to make him want her. Daniel told me all this with tears in his eyes, one week before he died. He said ‘It’s important that you know this’.”

The first time I met Pierre Louis at his grandparents’ home, three years after his mother was murdered, he barely spoke. His father had told him to avoid journalists, he says now, in the hope he would forget the tragedy.

But, as the years passed, Pierre Louis watched his ill and ageing grandparents struggle to keep the case in the public eye, and realised he had a duty to take over from them.

In 2007, before Pierre Louis was fully engaged with the campaign for justice, other family members and friends created the Association for the Truth about the Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier (ASSOPH).

“It has created closeness among people who otherwise might not keep in touch,” Pierre Louis says. “In a way, Maman lives through ASSOPH.”

Until this year, Pierre Louis spoke to journalists only “parsimoniously”. He found it helped him. “My father never talks about it. My wife doesn’t; my closest friends don’t. Everybody is afraid of it.”

Pierre Louis likens his mother’s murder to “a disease that hits everyone in the family differently, a disease that one is never cured of, that one lives with . . . I’m trying to build my life with that. It’s not easy.

“Everyone loses their parents, but not in the knowledge that someone wanted to kill them. It’s complicated and it’s endless. Justice is an important step, but even justice would not end it.”

Pilgrimage

His grandparents visited Ms Toscan du Plantier’s house “like a pilgrimage, like a temple or a tomb,” Pierre Louis says.

“For me, it’s a place of life, a place of communion between my mother and me. I have a physical and moral need to go there.”

The killing of Ms Toscan du Plantier remains “very present” in west Cork, Pierre Louis says.

“When I go to the pub, I tell people, ‘I like Ireland a lot, but your justice system lets murderers run free. What if your kids get killed? Why don’t you protest’?”

In the first years after the murder, Pierre Louis says, gardaí in west Cork gave his grandparents false hopes.

Though he was the only person who had stayed in the house with his mother, no one from An Garda Síochána ever asked to speak to him.

He finally asked to see them.

“I told the police officer, ‘This is the most touristic place in Ireland, but it’s not safe’,” Pierre Louis recalls. “The officer replied ‘It’s very safe here; there hasn’t been a murder for 20 years.’

“I said ‘I’m sorry, but you haven’t been able to find my mother’s murderer in 20 years, and you dare tell me it’s a safe place, with her murderer still at large’?”

With the exception of a few letters, the family has had no contact with official Ireland.

Letters

Pierre Louis wrote to Claire Loftus, the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“I listed all the evidence against Ian Bailey. I said ‘Let’s go to west Cork together. I want to see what kind of cuts a Christmas tree makes on a man’s arms and forehead. I want someone to explain to me why, when one kills a turkey, one burns one’s clothing afterwards. He beat his partner and admitted he wanted to kill her. He was first on the scene of the murder. If there are other people in this situation in Ireland, I want to meet them’.”

Ms Loftus did not reply.

Bailey’s French lawyer, Dominique Tricaud, told this newspaper in August that he believes his client will be convicted in absentia of voluntary homicide.

If that happens, Pierre Louis says: “For Ireland, it will no longer be a question of being asked to extradite a suspect, but of extraditing a convicted murderer.”

He is convinced the case will be resolved.

“Justice is like a train, my father often says. Even if it’s late, the train always arrives at its destination. Little by little, with the years, it’s approaching. The truth will be established.”