Film director’s wife killed in West Cork ‘suspicious’ of neighbour, court told
A French film director’s wife brutally murdered in West Cork over 20 years ago was “suspicious” of a neighbour who tried to impress her with poetry, a court in Paris has heard.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier was battered to death with a blunt object outside her holiday home on an isolated hillside in Toormore, near Schull, two days before Christmas in 1996.
The case is one of Ireland’s most famous unsolved murders and the main suspect, 62-year-old British man Ian Bailey, was never tried although several people claim to have heard him confess to the killing.
The victim was the third wife of celebrated cinematographer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, who was 16 years her senior, and friends said she had bought the cottage in West Cork to escape their busy life together.
Last year the case reached a global audience after being re-investigated in the popular true crime podcast West Cork.
Bailey, who still lives in the close-knit community with his partner Jules Thomas, vehemently denies any involvement in Ms Toscan du Plantier’s death and denies ever admitting the murder.
Manchester-born Bailey tried to build a career as a journalist before moving to West Cork in the mid-1990s where he turned his hand to poetry, gardening and running a pizza stall with Ms Thomas.
Ireland has twice refused to extradite Bailey to France and this week he is being tried in his absence at the Cour d’Assises in Paris, the highest criminal court in the region, and risks being jailed for up to 30 years.
On Tuesday the victim’s best friend Agnes Thomas said she has asked her to join her on the brief trip to Ireland but she had been unable to go because of a birthday.
She told the court: “Perhaps if I had been there she would still be alive.”
Ms Thomas said she and the victim would speak almost every day on the phone and she had described a man trying to recite poetry to her who had wanted to meet again.
“She was suspicious of him and she didn’t want to see him,” she said.
Ms Thomas said her memories were “a bit polluted” by everything that had happened and she could not say exactly when the conversation had taken place, adding that she and her friend had not dwelt on the man for long.
Ms Thomas did not recall the victim giving the man’s name, but Bailey was at the time trying to make a name for himself as a poet.
She said Ms Toscan du Plantier had thought he was “strange” rather than just being too forward.
Ms Thomas said she had only been to her friend’s holiday home once, saying the victim had loved the area.
“She loved being by the sea and she had this fascination with the beautiful view outside her house,” she said.
She said she had met the housekeeper, one of her neighbours and some of the locals in the victim’s favourite pub, but not Bailey.
Ms Thomas said the victim’s husband rarely accompanied her because the house was very cold and drafty and he “liked comfort”.
She added that Ms Toscan du Plantier was committed to her marriage and she and her husband were planning on having a child together.
Gilbert Jacob, a close friend of Mr Toscan du Plantier who also worked in film, told the court he had spent a lot of time with the couple before the victim’s death.
He said: “At the time Toscan (Daniel Toscan du Plantier) had become a sort of ambassador for French cinema, he was extremely well known and extremely brilliant.”
He continued: “Sophie was a woman who was quite reserved, who needed from time to time to have a little calm because the life of such a producer and personality (her husband) was extremely hectic.
“Toscan went all over France, he knew people in high levels of government and everyone was interested in his career.”
Mr Jacob described Sophie as very beautiful and very deep for someone of her age, adding: “She didn’t just want to be the wife of Toscan.”
“She needed a bit of space. It was an amazing life but very tiring. The telephone never stopped ringing,” he said.
He said Mr Toscan du Plantier had been attracted to her because she was the opposite of all the glamorous actresses and was not a “provocateur”.
The failure prosecute Bailey sparked allegations of incompetence and corruption against the local gardai and prompted the victim’s family’s campaign to have him extradited to France.
Bailey has branded the case in France a “show trial” and it may seem extraordinary to those familiar with the Irish and British justice system that such a complicated case is being heard in a matter of days by a judge and two professional magistrates.
But the case can be viewed as another way of pressuring Ireland into handing over Bailey to the French authorities.
If he were to be extradited, he would be tried again by a jury and given the opportunity to mount a defence.
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.