‘We’ll never have the truth’: death of suspect Ian Bailey floors family of French film-maker | France


Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s relatives tell of Irish murder case, years of seeking justice and hope cold case inquiry will continue

Tue 23 Jan 2024 06.00 CET

Each time the killing of French film-maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier has made headlines in the last 27 years, it has taken her brother back to the moment he was asked by Irish police to identify his older sister’s body.

It is an image burned into Bertrand Bouniol’s memory, and he winces as he recalls it; Du Plantier’s head and face had been smashed with a 20kg (44lb) concrete block.

“I leant over the coffin and for one or two seconds I thought, no, that’s not Sophie. Her face had been redone and looked like it was made of wax. Then I saw her blonde hair and her hands and thought perhaps it is her. It was,” he said.

“It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s always in my head.”

For the last almost three decades, Du Plantier’s family has tried to discover the truth behind her murder and see her killer brought to justice.

Now there is only frustration after the death of Ian Bailey, 66, the prime suspect. He was never brought to trial in Ireland, where prosecutors decided there was a lack of physical evidence, but was convicted in absentia of murdering the film-maker by a French court in 2015 and sentenced to 25 years.

Bailey, a British journalist, was twice arrested by Irish police and questioned about the murder. He repeatedly protested his innocence. After his conviction in the French court, he said: “All they’ve done is convict an innocent man who had nothing to do with the crime.”

Ian Bailey was twice arrested by Irish police and questioned about the murder, repeatedly protested his innocence. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

In the last three decades books, documentaries, podcasts and films have been made about the case, but for the family there have been no answers, no closure.

Paris-based Bouniol, 64, said: “Now we will never know the details of what happened to my sister. This is frustrating and a great regret because for us the case will never be closed.”

Du Plantier, was living in Paris with her husband Daniel, the then president of the French film promotion agency Unifrance, and her son Pierre-Louis. She had visited Ireland as a teenager and bought the cottage where she was killed in the isolated town of Drinane near Schull, County Cork, in 1993 as a refuge and holiday home.

On 20 December 1996 she arrived in Ireland intending to return to Paris for Christmas but three days later, her body was discovered by a neighbour in a lane near the house. She was wearing nightclothes and boots and had been severely beaten.

The first the family knew was when Bouniol phoned a neighbour who looked after the house when Du Plantier was away late on 23 December 1996.

“She was crying and I didn’t understand anything she was saying. I just said: ‘Tell me, is it Sophie or not?’ She replied, yes it was Sophie. It was such a shock. It was like the sky had fallen in on us,” he said.

“We couldn’t imagine such a thing could happen in such a quiet region of Ireland. It never seemed a place of danger.”

Bouniol added: “The local police had never had to deal with anything like it, which perhaps explains their incompetence. The pathologist didn’t arrive for 28 hours and by then the police had walked all over the crime scene.”

Bailey had moved to Ireland 1991 and was living nearby. He was known to the Gardaí for domestic violence.

In Ireland people are divided: many convinced he was guilty; others considering him grievously wronged.

A French order demanding his extradition, which Ireland refused, was outstanding at the time of his death from a heart attack near his home in Bantry, County Cork, on Sunday.

Bouniol says he has no idea whether the Irish cold case investigation will be dropped.

“Hopefully it won’t and maybe now Bailey is dead witnesses who might have been afraid will come forward,” he adds.

Du Plantier’s uncle Jean-Pierre Gazeau, who set up an association to campaign for justice for his niece, said on Monday: “From the very beginning there was sufficient proof to have a trial in Ireland.

“He [Bailey] was convicted in France. To sum it up, for us he was the killer and now he is dead and the disappointment comes from the fact that we will never have a confession from his own mouth. We will never have the truth. We will never have justice. Those have always been our only objectives, not vengeance. The only person who could give us the truth is the person who committed the murder and now we do not have that.

“It’s been 27 years the family has campaigned. We want to know what happened. We can imagine all kind of things, have all manner of hypotheses but we want to know the details of what happened in the last seconds of Sophie’s life and that seems a legitimate thing for the family, friends and for justice.”

On Monday, Bouniol told his and Sophie’s father, Georges, 97, of Bailey’s death. Bouniol’s mother, Marguerite, is unwell and had not been told.

“My father took it badly. It was like a blow to the head,” he said. “We’ve had 27 years of this case bouncing back regularly and every time it takes us into it again.

“Firstly, Bailey – who in France is the killer – has escaped punishment and secondly we will never know what happened. All we are looking for is the truth. Now we will never learn it from the mouth of her killer. And it is not me or the family that considers Bailey the killer but the French justice system that found him guilty of murder.

“Knowing the details would never bring my sister back but at least we would have the answers to our questions.”

He said family members regularly visit Du Plantier’s house in County Cork, now owned by her son.

“She had a desk by a window where she could see the light from the Fastnet lighthouse,” Bouniol said. “It’s always difficult for the first couple of hours after we arrive, but after that the house is where we find Sophie.”

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