Sophie Toscan Du Plantier 1996 murder suspect could be cleared

British journalist Ian Bailey found guilty by a French court of murdering filmmaker Sophie Toscan Du Plantier could be CLEARED after 25 years due to new documentary after key witness says she saw ‘man known to victim’s husband’ in the area

  • Ian Bailey was prime suspect in the murder of  Sophie Toscan Du Plantier in 1996
  • Journalist reported on the death and was found guilty in French court in 2019
  • But lives as a free man in Ireland as High Court ruled he can’t be extradited 
  • In new Netflix documentary, he denies ever having met the French film producer
  • Many locals in rural part of West Cork claim he admitted the murder to them 
  • Comes as Sky documentary claimed he could be cleared due to new evidence 

A British former journalist found guilty in French courts of the brutal murder of a French film producer in Ireland has again denied being involved in her death in a new Netflix documentary as it emerges there may be new evidence to clear him 25 years after he was first arrested.

Ian Bailey, now 64, was one of the first to report on the death of 39-year-old Sophie Toscan Du Plantier when she was murdered in 1996 outside her holiday home in a rural part of West Cork in Ireland.

He spoke to a new Netflix documentary Sophie: A Murder in West Cork- which will be released on Wednesday –  in a case that continues to shake Ireland and France to this day.  

Still a free man, Bailey continues to live in the community that was rocked by Sophie’s murder. He was never tried in Ireland, despite being arrested twice. In 2019 he found guilty in France, where he was tried ‘in absentia’ and sentenced to 25 years  behind bars.

Last year, Ireland’s High Court rejected an attempt by French authorities to have him extradited. 

Now, new evidence passed to the Gardai by another documentary director may clear Bailey’s name with a witness claiming to have spotted another man in the area known to the victim’s husband – despite many locals saying Bailey has confessed the crime to them. 

Marie Farrell, who was the Gardai’s key witness in placing Bailey at the scene, has now recounted her testimony to say the man she saw was too short to be Bailey. 

Ian Bailey, now 64, was one of the first on the scene after 39-year-old Sophie Toscan Du Plantier (pictured) was murdered in 1996 outside her holiday home in a rural part of West Cork in Ireland.

Still a free man, Bailey, who worked as a journalist covering the case,  continues to live in the community that was rocked by Sophie’s murder

Speaking from the home where he still lives in Schull, West Cork, Manchester-born Bailey explained he moved to Ireland from England to ‘quit the f****** rat race’ and once there reached out to newspaper editors about doing freelance work, while also writing poetry and doing gardening for money. 

‘The victim’s house is about three miles down the road, or about a mile as the crow files,’ he said. 

‘I’d done some work for her neighbour,  Mr Alf Lyons, I was never introduced to her, but I was aware of her but I didn’t know her name. 

‘It was alleged, unexplainedly, that a lady seen me down at Kealfadda Bridge in the early hours of the morning. It wasn’t me, it’s completely untrue, at the time I was asleep in the prairie cottage. 

Marie Farrell lived in Schull with her husband and children in 1996 and placed Bailey at the scene at 3am on the night of Sophie’s murder. 

In the documentary, locals discuss how she was threatened by Bailey after coming forward to the police. While Bailey hasn’t been tried in Ireland, she gave evidence in a 2003 libel case saying she saw Bailey on the bridge.

But in 2015, she gave evidence on behalf of Bailey in his wrongful arrest civil case, and now has identified the man she believed to have seen on the night of the murder as a Frenchman known to Sophie’s family.

The three-part documentary gives a rigorous account of the details of Sophie’s tragic death and examines the many unanswered questions at the heart of the case, with locals saying Bailey was ‘desperate for notoriety’ with many in the close-knit, inclusive, bohemian society they were ‘scared of him’.

It speaks to locals living who were in the remote ex-pat community of Cork at the time of the murder, as well as her parents and son – and the prime suspect Bailey. 

Bailey, who remains a prime suspect by the Gardaí has repeatedly denied any involvement in the killing, and last week slammed the Netflix documentary as ‘poisonous propaganda’.  

While reporting on the case for newspapers across Ireland and the UK, Bailey delivered food to Sophie’s neighbour’s house – and saw this as an opportunity to look at the crime scene.  The documentary explains how Bailey wrote stories about Sophie having a string of lovers and having parties with ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ which locals blasted as ‘ridiculous’. 

An integral part of French 90s showbusiness culture, Sophie was the wife of Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a famous Parisian film producer – and a friend of Jacques Chirac –  and mother to Pierre Louis, her much adored son from a previous relationship.

Her friends and family explain that she had one lover –  Bruno Carbonnet – who was known to her husband and that they had split acrimoniously in 1993. He was a suspect in the early investigation but was able to prove he was in Paris at the time of the murder.

Sophie had loved to retreat from the spotlight and social whirl of Paris to the rugged beauty and solitude of the wind-blown Irish coast, where she could be alone to think, write and walk.

In May 2019, Bailey was convicted of murder by the Cour d’Assises de Paris and sentenced to 25 years in prison however the following year, Ireland’s High Court ruled that Bailey could not be extradited

At the time of her murder, Sophie was 39, and the wife of Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a famous Parisian film producer, and mother to Pierre Louis, her much adored son from a previous relationship

Three years before her death she had bought a bleached white house in West Cork,  over the churning Atlantic Ocean, the Fastnet lighthouse blinking in the distance. 

In December 1996, she returned for a short pre-Christmas break, intending to head back to her husband and son in Paris for the festive celebrations. She never made it.

Sophie’s body, battered almost beyond recognition, was discovered lying face-up in the grass verge of a lane, 100 yards from the house she loved in Toormore, a tiny outcrop, six miles West of the nearest town, Schull. 

She was clothed in white pyjamas and was wearing hastily laced-up boots. A large rock and concrete block, both spattered with her blood, had been used to strike her repeatedly on the head and body. The coroner’s report noted she had 50 separate injuries.

At the house itself, there were no signs of struggle or break in. In her bedroom was an anthology of Irish poems open to W.B. Yeats poem, A Dream of Death. It begins, ‘I dreamed that I had died in a strange place/Near no accustomed hand.’

Just five days after the murder, Bailey had an article published in the Irish Daily Star, which referred to e ‘tangled love life’ describing Sophie as French temptress. 

‘It gave the impression he knew a hell of a lot’ Michael Sheridan, an Irish Independent journalist explains in the documentary.

‘He said that Sophie had been killed by blunt force trauma, he also mentioned that there were two wine glasses on the draining board and sink.

‘And he also added that he had not been sexually assaulted.

‘One had judged that he had friends within the investigation.  

Bailey also told people of theories that he thought Sophie’s husband Daniel, who died in 2003 aged 61,  may have sent a hitman to kill Sophie, as a divorce would lead to a loss of half of his estate, adding that he had a large life insurance premium on her.  

Speaking in the documentary, Michael slammed the theory as ‘absurd’ saying no paid assassin would travel to a remote part of Ireland and then rely on weapons of opportunity.

He added that the murderer would need to know the area ‘very well’. 

Bailey also contacted the Gardai to say there was a French connection to the murder. 

While many have dismissed this theory, another documentary, Sky Crime’s Murder at the Cottage, passed on evidence to the Irish police, that said that Farrell, a former shopkeeper in Schull, and former Gardai key witness in the murder probe claims she can identify a man in a black coat seen outside her shop a few days before the December 1996 murder, saying it to be a man known to Sophie’s husband.

The Parisian man is now in his fifties and known to some of Sophie’s family, and was allegedly spotted buying a copy of French paper Le Monde in Schull.

Speaking of becoming a suspect, Bailey went on:  ‘One day I went into the paper shop and I notice there was a local guard I knew and detective from Bantry. 

‘They were scrutinising me. I thought “what’s that about then?”.

‘Then I walked down Schull high street, popped my head around the street and what did I observed but the same two police officers following me.’

Sophie’s body, battered almost beyond recognition, was discovered lying face-up in the grass verge of a lane, 100 yards from the house she loved in Toormore, a tiny outcrop, six miles West of the nearest town, Schull. Pictured is her home

‘At the end of January to early February, things started to become very strange.

‘I was putting stories through to the Sunday Tribune, and I was talking to Helen Callanan, who was the news editor.

‘She said to me “do you know what they’re saying up here Ian”. I said “no”

What happened to Sophie Tuscan du Plantier and how was journalist Ian  Bailey involved? Timeline shows how French producer was killed at her home in West Cork and how the local who followed her case was found guilty in France – but still lives as a free man in Ireland

 20 December 1996 – Sophie Toscan du Plantier arrives alone from Paris for a pre-Christmas break at her remote holiday home in Toormore, a tiny outcrop, six miles West of the nearest town, Schull.

23 December 1996 – At 10am, Sophie’s battered and bloodied body is discovered by a neighbour in the lane, 100 yards from her house. Dressed still in white night clothes and wearing lace up boots, she has been the victim of a savage and frenzied attack including repeated blows to the head with a large rock and concrete block. Her body has sustained almost 50 separate injuries.

24 December 1996 – Prof John Harbison, Ireland’s only state pathologist, arrives at the crime scene from Dublin almost 28 hours after the body is discovered. The delay makes it impossible to determine the exact time of death and vital forensic clues may have been lost. Perplexingly, all the DNA at the scene is Sophie’s alone.

January 1997 – Local shopkeeper, Marie Farrell contacts police to say she saw Ian Bailey near Sophie’s home while driving at 3am on the night of the murder.

10 February 1997 – Bailey is arrested but released without charge after 12 hours of questioning.

27 January 1998 – Bailey is arrested and released for a second time.

February 1998 – Garda detectives submit a 2000-page file to Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions making the case for charging Ian Bailey with murder. It is, ultimately, rejected three years later on the grounds of insufficient or circumstantial evidence and unreliable witnesses.

 December 2001 – Jules Thomas, Ian Bailey’s long-term partner is taken to hospital following a ‘domestic’ incident. It is the third violent assault she has suffered at Bailey’s hands.

 December 2003 – Ian Bailey pursues an action against seven Irish and British Newspapers alleging eight counts of libel arising out of their coverage of the case. The libel trial at Cork’s Circuit Court hears evidence from many witnesses. Bailey loses on six counts.

September 2007 – Frustrated by Ireland’s failure to charge Ian Bailey the man they strenuously believe murdered Sophie, her family, headed by her uncle, Jean Pierre Gazeau found a pressure group, The Association for the Truth About Sophie Toscan du Plantier, in Paris. The organisation, which still meets every month, begins its own investigation.

2010 – French authorities have the first of several attempts to extradite Ian Bailey refused by Ireland.

November,  2014  – Eighteen years after Sophie’s murder, Ian Bailey sues the state amid claims that he was wrongly targeted as a suspect. A vacillating Marie Farrell, now on Bailey’s side, testifies that she was coerced by Garda and now claims that she did not see Bailey on the night of the murder. The court, however, considers her evidence unreliable. Penniless Bailey loses and faces a legal bill for costs of €5 million.

May 27, 2019 – The ‘In Absentia’ trial of Ian Bailey begins in Paris. A panel of three judges hears from more than 30 witnesses.

May 30, 2019– Bailey is found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

October 2020 – Twenty-five years after Sophie’s murder the Irish High Court rules for a third time that Ian Bailey cannot be extradited on the grounds that the law under which he was convicted in France does not exist in Irish law.

Present day: Bailey remains convicted under French law but would be entitled to a retrial if extradited. He maintains his innocence and continues to live as a free man in West Cork.

‘She said, “they’e saying, the word is, you murdered her”.

‘It was just so ridiculous, she was telling me this, I was hearing this for the first time from her. I now know it’s out there, and someone else is putting out the false word that I murdered her. 

Bailey, who had a history of domestic violence, also had scratches on his arm and forehead, which he claims are from gardening and rearing turkeys and not defensive wounds.

Many locals reveal in the documentary that Bailey confessed the crime to them, including one who said he their told a 14-year-old he ‘bashed Sophie’s head in’ and another who said he told an elaborate story about ‘seeing her tight a*** and wanting to f*** her’. 

Despite often being in a state of tears or fit of anger when making these confessions, Bailey later dismissed this as ‘black humour’.  

Filmmakers also speak to  Sophie’s grief-stricken family who continue to fight for truth and justice on her behalf, the previously peaceful and welcoming community that was rocked to its core by her death, the police who investigated the murder and members of the media who have continued to follow the twists and turns of this confounding, still unresolved crime for most of their careers.

Filmed in West Cork, Paris and the UK it features exclusive interviews with those who knew her best – close confidantes and members of her family. 

These include Frederic Gazeau, the cousin, who was like a ‘little brother to her’ and worked as an associate producer on the documentary.

Her parents, George and Marguerite, her uncle Jean Pierre Gazeau, who created The Association for the Truth About The Murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier and her son, Pierre- Louis Baudey Vignaud, a grieving teenager at the time of her death and now her greatest champion, are also featured. 

Defending the decision to use Bailey in the documentary,  Director John Dower said: ‘We were determined it would never become The Ian Bailey Show.’

‘We felt strongly, too, that any previous attempts to tell the story had been sort of seduced by the prime suspect, which often happens in True Crime stories. 

‘And in this one, it was particularly dangerous because Ian Bailey is a great, larger- than- life character who loves to be centre stage. But we were determined it would never become The Ian Bailey Show.

‘Also, it was really important in terms of the reconstructions, which in many True Crime documentaries feel over-directed and sensationalist. 

‘There was never any question of casting an actress to “play” Sophie. 

‘In fact, I didn’t want any actors at all, and if we had to recreate, we would be visualising an absence. 

‘It’s there visually in many of the interviews – such as when two of the locals who knew Sophie point to where she used to sit in their pub or bar’.

Sophie, he discovered, was a complicated character. ‘We wanted to show these layers of her. 

‘She had a failing marriage and a turbulent relationship history. 

‘She had this sort of contradiction, too, between being in the limelight and wanting solitude.’

John also tried to steer an even course through the evidence, despite his own personal views about the guilt or innocence of Ian Bailey.

He denies it and there is no evidence that would stand in a UK or an Irish court that would convict him currently. 

‘But, for me, there are a number of contradictions at the heart of this story that he’s never, ever quite answered,’ he said.

Earlier this week Bailey told the Irish Times: ‘It is a piece of biased, inimical, poisonous propaganda’.

‘It is based entirely on a false narrative, the same false narrative which was used to convict me in my absence in France, linking me to a crime that I had nothing to do with and it will most assuredly demonise me,’ he said. 

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

After one assault for which his partner had to be hospitalised, he wrote in his diary: ‘I feel sick reading my own report of the events that night – I really wanted to kill her.’

A psychiatrist’s report prepared for the murder trial concluded he had a ‘personality constructed on narcissism, psycho-rigidity, violence, impulsiveness, egocentricity, with an intolerance to frustration and a great need for recognition. 

‘Under the liberating effects of alcohol, he had the tendency to become violent’. 

He was arrested and questioned in February 1997 and again in 1998, but never charged since police could find no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.  

The case has taken many twists and turns over the years, including Bailey bringing a successful a libel case against six newspapers. 

During the trial in 2003, Cork Circuit Court heard Bailey had confessed to the murder of Sophie to a 14-year-old schoolboy with the words, ‘I bashed her f****** brains in.’

A local man, Ritchie Shelly, also told the court that Bailey had confessed to the murder on New Year’s Eve 1998, saying: ‘I did it, I did it. I went too far.’ 

Sophie was among the social elite in Paris and ‘the best mother in the world’ according to her son Pierre-Louis, who lived with her after his parents’ divorce and was ‘very close’ to her

Several other witnesses claimed that Bailey, who had worked as an investigative journalist in London before moving to Ireland when his marriage ended, admitted to them that he was the murderer – hearsay evidence that was submitted during the French trial.  

Sunday Tribune News Editor, Helen Callanan – to whom Bailey had reported on the killing –  said she asked Bailey in early February 1997 about rumours he was a suspect and he replied: ‘It was me, I did it. I killed her. I did it to resurrect my career.’  

Frustrated by the lack of progress in Ireland, the French authorities started their own investigation in 2008 – even exhuming Sophie’s body in the hope of finding further forensic evidence. 

During the trial held at France’s highest criminal court in 2019, presiding judge Frederique Aline said there was ‘significant evidence’ of Bailey’s guilt. 

At the time, Bill Fuller – one of only two original witnesses to give live evidence – said Bailey had recounted him a scenario of the killing the day after Sophie’s body was found.

Mr Fuller said Bailey turned to him and said: ‘You did it … you saw her in Spar and she got you excited as she walked through the aisles with her tight a***.

‘You went to her place to see what you could get, but she wasn’t interested so you attacked her. She tried to escape and you ran after her. You threw something at the back of her head and you went further than you planned to.’ 

Ian Bailey, 64, pictured in July 2010, was found guilty of killing Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 39, in 1996, in his absence at a French court last year 

Bailey first claimed he had spent the entire night at home in bed next to his partner Jules Thomas, but later revealed he had left in the early hours of the morning to walk to his studio about 300m from the house.

He said he had wanted to finish an article.

Public prosecutor Jean-Pierre Bonthoux branded Bailey a ‘coward’ for refusing to face justice and replying only in the media, accusing him of mocking the French court.

Speaking about Ms Farrell, he said: ‘There was nothing between her and Mr Bailey, no animosity. She understood (her evidence) was important.’

At the time, Bailey branded the case in France a ‘show trial’.  

Ireland has twice refused to send him to France to stand trial, saying police had questioned him twice about the killing but failed to find any substantive evidence.

It has also cited the lack of an extradition agreement with France. 

Sophie, who was married to celebrated French film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a friend of Jacques Chirac, was found dead on an isolated hillside after being beaten over the head with a concrete block

Only due to a quirk of France’s Napoleonic law that allows crimes against French citizens to be tried in their own courts, no matter where in the world they were committed, was Bailey able to be tried.

In May 2019, Bailey was convicted of murder by the Cour d’Assises de Paris and sentenced to 25 years in prison however the following year, Ireland’s High Court ruled that Bailey could not be extradited.

Sophie was among the social elite in Paris and ‘the best mother in the world’ according to her son Pierre-Louis, who lived with her after his parents’ divorce and was ‘very close’ to her. 

She bought the cottage when Pierre-Louis was eight, having fallen in love with the rugged Irish countryside and the sense of escapism it offered her. 

The pair travelled there twice a year, with Sophie keen for her son to learn English.

The year she was killed, Pierre-Louis, then 15, was spending Christmas with his father.

They only realised something was wrong when news reports emerged about a woman being killed in Ireland. 

 Sophie: A Murder in West Cork, a three-part series, is available on Netflix from June 30.

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