TWENTY years on from the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, in Schull, in west Cork, on December 23, 1996, her family are still seeking justice.
ASSOPH, a group set up in France to push for progress in the case, is hoping that the new year will bring truth and justice for the family and friends of the film producer, who was 39 when she died.
Until recent years, Sophie’s parents travelled annually to her holiday home to place flowers at the spot where she was found battered to death.
The family do not plan a public event to mark the 20th anniversary of the murder, but will attend a private mass, for relatives and friends, in Paris.
Family friend, Jean-Antoine Bloc Daude, said: “Our association does not intend to celebrate publicly the 20th anniversary of Sophie, neither in Ireland nor in France.”
Last July, the judge heading up the French investigation into the murder issued a fresh arrest warrant for Ian Bailey, the English journalist who was arrested twice by the gardaí, but never charged.
But now, it is possible Mr Bailey could be tried, in his absence, in a French court, even if the Irish authorities refuse to extradite him to France.
A similar warrant, issued by the previous judge in charge of the case, was denied by the Irish authorities.
In a statement to the Evening Echo, a spokesman for ASSOPH said: “Sophie Toscan du Plantier was murdered in dreadful circumstances on December 23, 1996, in a vicious killing, just yards from her beloved Irish home. At that time, no-one could predict that family, friends, and all of the people aware of the case would have to wait 20 years for truth and justice for Sophie.”
The statement added: “At the moment, we have neither truth nor justice. We are still waiting, just like so many other families and friends of victims in Ireland. ASSOPH feel very strongly about this lack of truth and justice, and we are in total solidarity with the families of victims and our friends.”
The group has welcomed the decision, by Judge Nathalie Turquey, to seek the extradition of Mr Bailey to France, to be charged in connection with the murder.
ASSOPH has described the move as “an important step in our search for truth and justice.” But the spokesman added: “ASSOPH, along with Sophie’s family and friends, will remain very vigilant, and there will be many obstacles that will transpire in the coming months to slow or block the case.” And the association also said there are “sound guarantees” in place, which will allow Ian Bailey to be represented and defended by a lawyer, if a trial goes ahead in Paris in his absence.
The prospect of a French trial comes almost a decade after Sophie’s body was exhumed, in Paris, as part of the new probe into her murder, for a fresh autopsy. During the investigation, French investigators came to Ireland a number of times to question people who were witnesses in the garda investigation.
In an interview with the Evening Echo, last week, Mr Bailey said his and his partner Jules Thomas’s lives have been dominated by the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
He said: “Clearly, this is the 20th anniversary and we have suffered, as have the family and friends of the victim. I have always protested my innocence, from the time I was first falsely identified as culpable.”
He is currently working with his legal team on an appeal against a decision of the High Court, in March, 2015, in a case taken by him against the State, the Garda Commissioner, and the Attorney General. The jury found that certain gardaí had not conspired to obtain statements from the witness, Marie Farrell, to implicate Ian Bailey in the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.
In 2005, Marie Farrell withdrew her statements that she had seen Ian Bailey at Kealfadda Bridge, near the murder scene. She said gardaí had pressured her into making the statements.
She had once been considered the key witness in the case.
After she withdrew the statements implicating Ian Bailey, a garda team was set up to investigate the circumstances under which they were withdrawn.
The appeal is likely to be heard over three days in the Court of Appeal, next March.
In the trial, more than 90 witnesses were involved in the long-running civil action. 21 witnesses gave evidence for Mr Bailey over the 64-day trial, including himself, Marie Farrell, and two former DPPs, James Hamilton and Eamonn Barnes.
As part of the civil action, a discovery application was made by his legal team for access to garda files on the murder.
Up to 18,000 documents were released to the team, prior to the civil action. They included the transcripts of recorded phone calls relating to the garda investigation into the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. The calls include some with Marie Farrell, the woman once regarded as the key witness in the case.
More than 130 recordings were discovered at Bandon garda station, when material of relevance was being sifted through as a result of the discovery process for Mr Bailey’s legal team.
The development led to the setting-up of the Fennelly inquiry, which is due to report shortly on its findings relating to the recording of phone calls in garda stations.
An interim report, published in September, 2015, said the investigation was far-reaching, looking at what was known from rank-and-file gardaí, up to garda commissioner rank, about the recordings of non-999 calls, as well as the use of such recordings over a period of 20-30 years.
Friday is the anniversary of Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s murder in Schull, in west Cork, in 1996. Her family will not be marking the day publicly, but they are hoping the new year will bring justice, says security correspondent, Ann Murphy