Investigation | 

New witness statements and DNA technology lie behind Sophie Tuscan du Plantier case review

Many witnesses were a result of two true-crime documentaries that aired about the death of Sophie

Sophie Tuscan du Plantier

Senan Molony and Ralph

Improvements in DNA testing and new witness statements have prompted a dramatic Garda statement last night that keeps alive the prospect of a trial in the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

A review of the file formerly submitted to the DPP has found clear new avenues for investigation – with the result that a full-scale reassessment will be undertaken.

Detectives have examined potential new evidence over the past 12 months and also interviewed a number of potential witnesses, many in the wake of two high-profile documentaries on the case screened by Sky TV and Netflix.

Now, gardaí are about to conduct a full review of the case file – the third time such a review has been conducted in 20 years.

One area seen as promising is the development of M-Vac technology that has proved adept at extracting DNA lying deep in rock surfaces that cannot be detected through the ordinary swabbing technology that was in place 25 years ago.

Gardaí still possess the bagged and bloody rock and concrete block that were used to bludgeon the 39-year-old filmmaker to death on the night of December 23, 1996, at her holiday home in Toormore, near Schull in Co Cork.

She was the mother of Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud, then a child, who last year appealed on The Late Late Showfor people to come forward with information relating to the murder of his mother.

There was a response to that call, while other statements were collected in the wake of the Netflix and Sky documentary series. Both had huge audiences in Ireland, with the Netflix series reaching high ratings in several countries abroad.

One of allegations made – which was revealed by the Irish Independent – was a claim that a person had admitted to helping to deal with bloodied clothes in the wake of Sophie’s murder.

Local investigators are understood to have obtained supporting evidence relating to circumstances around the claim.

The new investigation will involve a full review of the original case file – including witness statements, a detailed analysis of potentially new evidence submitted since 2019, and a consideration of any new forensic or technical examinations that may be appropriate.

This complete cold-case reinvestigation will lead to “recommendations” for officers pursuing the still-active ongoing investigation.

It is now conceivable that the developments on two fronts, old and new, could lead to a revised and comprehensive file, with further corroboration of central allegations being forwarded in time to the DPP’s office for a fresh decision on whether to prosecute.

The decision to open a cold-case review came after Ian Bailey (64), who has been the focus of repeated extradition requests by the French authorities, formally wrote to the Garda Commissioner last year seeking such a review. He said it would exonerate him from involvement in the brutal crime.

The Manchester-born poet and freelance journalist was convicted in absentia of Sophie’s killing in 2019 by a Paris court, and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. The Irish courts have refused to grant his extradition.

He has repeatedly protested his innocence and claims the Paris trial was “a travesty”.

Reacting to the news last night, Mr Bailey said: “It’s what I asked for and called for over 12 months ago. I am therefore clearly delighted to hear that my request has been acceded to.

“I have always said that if I can co-operate in any meaningful way with anything to do with this case, I am happy to.”

Mr Bailey was twice arrested for questioning by gardaí in relation to their investigation – in 1997 and 1998 – but was released without charge on both occasions.

Last December, Sophie’s family – led by her son Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud – staged a private memorial in Paris to mark the 25th anniversary of her death.

Mr Baudey-Vignaud now spearheads the campaign to see justice done for his mother. His eldest daughter was named Sophie in honour of her grandmother.

The Taoiseach last month called the case a “continuing stain on Irish society”. The case was also raised with the Taoiseach by French president Emmanuel Macron on a visit to Ireland. He appealed for the self-confessed suspect, Ian Bailey, to come to France for a new trial.

Ms du Plantier was savagely beaten to death as she fled a suspected intruder at outside her home on December 23, 1996, just hours before she was due to fly back to France to spend Christmas with her family.

She died after a frenzied attack in which she was beaten with a heavy rock after apparently being chased down a laneway from her home as she tried in vain to flee her attacker.

The savagery with which she was attacked shocked both locals and veteran gardaí, with around 50 blows being inflicted. No one has ever been charged with the killing in Ireland.

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