THE French trial of Ian Bailey for the murder of film-maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork got underway in Paris today when details of the brutal killing were read out in court.
Mr Bailey, aged 62, is being tried in his absence for the murder on an isolated hillside in Toormore, near Schull, two days before Christmas in 1996.
He vehemently denies the murder and has never stood trial in Ireland, although he was arrested twice.
Ms Toscan du Plantier was married to the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a celebrated French film director who had close contacts with the upper echelons of government in Paris.
Ireland has twice refused to hand Mr Bailey over and the case is now being heard by a judge and two professional magistrates at the Cour d’Assises in Paris.
On the first day of trial, presiding judge Frederique Aline read out the details of the brutal killing of Ms Toscan du Plantier.
The court heard that the victim suffered multiple blows to the head and body with a blunt object and that a breeze block was lying close to her body covered in bloodstains.
Blood stains were found spattered up to a square-metre around the body, and she was wearing long johns, a T-shirt and walking boots without socks.
Judge Aline listed the many twists and turns of the case has taken over the years including the testimony of Marie Farrell — a local woman who initially claimed she had seen Bailey walking towards the victim’s home on the night of the killing, a claim she later retracted.
The court heard how, in the days after the killing, several witnesses said Bailey had scratches in his hands and forearms, which he claimed he’d acquired while cutting down a Christmas tree.
The first live witness was private investigator Michel Larousse, who was tasked with giving evidence on the victim’s personality after conducting interviews with her friends and family.
He said Ms Toscan du Plantier was “very independent”, adding: “At times she wanted to be with people and there were moments she wanted to be on her own.”
He said she “wasn’t afraid of much” even in situations that carried a risk. He gave the example of the time she had let a homeless person sleep in her car, and the time she had invited another homeless man to have a meal with her.
Mr Larousse said the evidence indicated the person who killed Ms Toscan du Plantier was not someone she was afraid of and she did not see it coming.
The victim’s son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, who was 14 when she was murdered, has been at the forefront of the family’s campaign for justice and was seated in the court along with her brothers, uncle and parents.
The trial has been scheduled for one week, with a day off on Thursday, with the court due to return its verdict on Friday. Very few of the witnesses in the Irish investigation are expected to attend.