Sophie Toscan du Plantier case: the implications of delayed justice
French proceedings against Ian Bailey appear to be based on the same evidence deemed by Irish authorities to be insufficient to support a criminal prosecution in Irish courts
When Ian Bailey speaks of putting an end to the “torture” he is enduring in relation to the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier and his solicitor describes his client’s experience as a 20-year nightmare and a continuing “persecution”, neither can credibly expect much public support.
Though Mr Bailey has never been charged in connection with the French woman’s death in West Cork in 1996, it is a fact that he was arrested twice as a suspect and that despite denying involvement, his name is indelibly linked with her death. It is also a matter of public record that Mr Bailey assaulted his partner, Jules Thomas, during drink-fuelled rows in 1993, 1996 and again in 2001. In short, he is not a man to evoke sympathy.
Yet for all that, the prospect, two decades later, of Mr Bailey facing a trial – in his absence – in a French court for the voluntary homicide of Ms Toscan du Plantier should give cause for concern. The indictment was delivered to him at his home outside Schull last Thursday by gardaí from Bandon on foot of a request by the French authorities.
The French proceedings originate in a complaint made by Ms Toscan du Plantier’s late husband Daniel Toscan du Plantier and her parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol, in 1997 of voluntary homicide, murder and assassination. Also included is an additional charge of witness tampering filed in 2008.
Though successful criminal proceedings years after a crime are not unprecedented, they tend to be based on new evidence. That can range from a new witness who, for whatever reason, did not come forward earlier, to a “cold case” review which can include new techniques for the examination of forensic, scientific or DNA evidence collected at the time of the crime.
But the French proceedings appear to be based on the same evidence that was deemed by the Irish prosecuting authorities to be insufficient to support a criminal prosecution against Mr Bailey in the Irish courts.
That evidence, in the shape of several witness statements, has featured in a series of civil actions over the years and the reliability of key aspects of it has come under attack. Much rested on the credibility of Marie Farrell who, at different stages, has given evidence both against and in support of Mr Bailey.
In terms of public support and sympathy, it is difficult on a human basis not to side with the family of Ms Toscan du Plantier who have campaigned indefatigably for justice on her behalf.
That no one has been convicted of her murder is an affront to them and a stain on the record of the Irish criminal justice system, compounded by shortcomings in the official investigation. But in the absence of new evidence, the passage of time appears to be an insurmountable obstacle to correcting that wrong beyond all reasonable doubt. That applies in France as much as in Ireland.