Briton’s trial in absentia begins in Paris over French woman’s murder in Ireland

The trial of a British man for the brutal murder of a French woman in a small town in Ireland has begun in Paris.

Ian Bailey, 62, is being tried in absentia for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier on isolated hillside in Toormore, near Schull, west Cork, two days before Christmas in 1996.

Bailey never stood trial for the murder of Ms Toscan du Plantier – who was 39 when she died – although he was arrested twice and is said to have confessed to the killing on several occasions.

Manchester-born Bailey had lived in West Cork since the mid-1990s after quitting his career as a journalist and turning his hand to poetry.

Ian Bailey
Ian Bailey

Despite the scandal caused by the court case, he still lives in the area – running a business selling pizza at local markets with his partner Jules Thomas.

The failure to prosecute Bailey sparked allegations of incompetence and corruption against the local gardai and prompted the victim’s family to launch a campaign to have him extradited to France.

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.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier
Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Ireland has twice refused to hand him 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 – the president of the court – 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.

The attack had been so violent that blood stains were found spattered up to a metre square around the body, and she was wearing only 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”.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, at the Court of Appeal in Paris
Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, at the Court of Appeal in Paris

Mr Larousse said Sophie “wasn’t afraid of much” even in situations that carried a risk.

He gave the example of the time she had allowed a homeless person to 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 didn’t 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 case in one of Ireland’s most high-profile unsolved murder cases and the circumstances around Ms Toscan du Plantier’s death have recently reached a global audience through the popular podcast series West Cork.

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.