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REQUEST REJECTED Ian Bailey tells of his '24 year nightmare' after extradition over Sophie Toscan du Plantier denied

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Ian Bailey arriving at the High Court in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Ian Bailey arriving at the High Court in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Ian Bailey arriving at the High Court in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Former journalist Ian Bailey has spoken of his “relief” after the High Court emphatically ruled he could not be extradited to France where he would have faced a 25-year jail term for the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

But the family of the slain filmmaker said it was bitterly disappointed and wants the State to appeal the ruling.

It was the third time French authorities sought the Englishman’s extradition over the murder of Ms Toscan Du Plantier (39) outside her holiday home near Schull, west Cork on December 23, 1996.

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Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Sophie Toscan du Plantier

Sophie Toscan du Plantier

The latest application came after 63-year-old Mr Bailey was tried and sentenced to 25 years by a Paris court last year, following a trial he branded “a farce” and did not attend.

He has maintained that sinister attempts were made to frame him for the murder.

FIGHTING

“I have been fighting for justice for almost 24 years. People tend to forget that,” he told the Herald following yesterday’s ruling from Mr Justice Paul Burns.

“There was a newspaper headline at the weekend which said the French family was fighting for justice.

“But I have been fighting for justice too. I am an innocent person caught up in this nightmare. This has been a never-ending nightmare for me.”

In a 61-page ruling, Mr Justice Burns found a recent change in the law on extra-territorial jurisdiction had not created a situation allowing Mr Bailey’s extradition.

The law change would allow both Irish citizens and people ordinarily resident here to be to be prosecuted in Ireland for an offence committed outside the country,

The judge said there was still a lack of reciprocity between Irish and French laws.

While France bases its right to prosecute on the nationality of the victim, Ireland bases it on the nationality of the alleged perpetrator.

The judge said Section 44 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 which states a person shall not be surrendered under this Act if the offence specified in the warrant was committed in a place other than the issuing State, precluded Mr Bailey’s surrender.

Mr Justice Burns also said Mr Bailey had an accrued or vested right to not be surrendered on the basis of previous court decisions refusing his surrender, and he had not been divested of this by any new law.

He delayed making formal orders for a fortnight, to allow both sides time to consider his ruling.

In the meantime, Mr Bailey will remain on bail. It is unclear if the Justice Minister, who brought the proceedings following a request from French authorities, will lodge an appeal.

Last year’s trial took place under French laws which allow authorities there to investigate and prosecute the murders of French nationals abroad.

The Paris court largely relied on evidence gathered by gardaí, even though the Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland concluded in 2001 this material did not support the bringing of a prosecution.

Ms du Plantier, a French film executive and mother-of-one, was beaten to death on the laneway leading to her isolated holiday home after she apparently tried to flee an intruder on December 22/23 1996.

Manchester-born Bailey, who has lived in Ireland since 1991, has vehemently protested his innocence of the murder.

He reported on the murder for a number of Irish, UK and French newspapers, but later became the prime suspect.

Although he was twice arrested and questioned in 1997 and 1998, he was never charged.

“It is like being caught in a storm,” said Mr Bailey.

Mr Bailey said what has shocked him most is that he believes there are people in Ireland who know he is entirely innocent but yet they have remained silent while he has been subjected to various judicial proceedings since 1997.

“That is not easy when there are some devils out there who are determined to see me bonfired. This has been an absolute torture,” he said.

Alain Spilliaert, a lawyer for Ms Toscan du Plantier’s family, said they now expected the Government to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“We hope the Irish ministry will convince the judge to authorise an appeal since it is a matter of public interest.”

A family source admitted they were very upset by the ruling. “It is a very disappointing day. The family have put their trust in the Irish judicial system for many years, but have not received justice from Ireland,” he said.

TORTURE

Mr Bailey said living with the threat of extradition since 2010 has been “torture”.

The recent High Court proceedings heard that he felt unable to leave Ireland to visit his dying mother in the UK for fear of being arrested under the French European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

He stressed that it has been very difficult for him over recent months, not only due to the strain of the impending High Court judgment, but the Covid-19 lockdown.

The 63-year-old operates a farmers’ market stall in west Cork and he said the pandemic lockdown has had a serious impact on such local enterprises.

A freelance journalist and law graduate, he also published his latest book of poetry last year entitled A John Wayne State of Mind.

During his time in west Cork, he has also engaged in New Age gardening design, bodhrán making and wood-turning.

He said he has been living under constant threat of extradition to France since the first EAW was issued in 2010.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the first warrant in 2012, and a second extradition request was dismissed by the High Court in 2017 as an abuse of process.

Mr Bailey signalled a European Court of Human Rights challenge over the manner in which he has been treated by the French authorities.

The May 2019 trial in Paris was held after a decade-long investigation by French Magistrate Patrick Gachon and a team of elite detectives who had full access to the Garda murder file and re-interviewed many of the original garda witnesses.

That investigation was launched following a campaign by Ms du Plantier’s family and support group, ASSOPH, after the confirmation no prosecution was likely in Ireland.

Herald