THE brother of murdered Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier has spoken about the family’s difficulty in trying to understand the Irish criminal justice system following the death of his sister.
Bertrand Buoniol said that it was the family’s first time being confronted with such a crime and investigations, as well as media and the justice system, when 39-year-old Sophie’s body was discovered near her holiday home in Toormore, near Schull in west Cork, on December 23, 1996.
Nobody has ever been charged in Ireland with her killing, with many twists and turns in the investigation since 1996.
English native Ian Bailey was found guilty of her murder, in his absence, at a trial in France in 2019. Last October, a third attempt by France to have him extradited in connection with the murder was rejected by the Irish High Court.
Mr Bailey has always denied any involvement in the murder. He was arrested twice as part of the murder investigation in Ireland but was never charged.
Mr Buoniol told The Echo: “Being confronted for the first time with such a situation, crime, investigations, media, justice, our ignorance of all these areas was not easy to master.
“I’m not sure 25 years later we can handle it.”
But he stressed that there is no question of him criticising the Irish criminal justice system over that of France. And he also praised “the phenomenal work” carried out by gardaí on the case.
He elaborated: “On our relationship with the police, and their investigations, we were lucky to have a correspondent, a detective who took the trouble to follow us, to explain their work to us. When one is confronted with such a drama, it is comforting to have support to try to understand. This support was very important for us and we can thank the gardaí for it.”
But he criticised the “lack of technical means” available at the time of the murder, especially the absence of a pathologist from the scene for so long. The then State Pathologist, Dr John Harbison, did not arrive at the scene for a preliminary examination for more than 24 hours after the case.
Mr Buoniol said:
“Having left the body lifeless under a curtain, for more than 24 hours, before moving —what a mess.”
He praises the French approach to investigation, involving a magistrate and police together.
He said: “According to French law, a judge is appointed to follow the investigation from the start of the investigations. This allows for some beneficial justice-police cooperation when the findings have to move on to the next stage of a trial.”
The trial of Ian Bailey in France followed an investigation led by a magistrate.
Mr Buoniol spoke to The Echo just weeks before a five-part series on the murder, called Murder in the Cottage, is due to air on Sky TV.