UK suspect absent for Paris trial over 1996 murder in Ireland

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A trial got under way in Paris Monday of a British man accused of murdering the wife of a celebrated French film producer in Ireland over two decades ago but, as expected, the suspect failed to show up in court.

Ian Bailey, a 62-year-old former freelance journalist, denies killing Sophie Toscan du Plantier on December 23, 1996, and would not be present, or represented in court, his lawyer Dominique Tricaud told reporters, calling the trial a “parody”.

Judge Frederique Aline, presiding over the court, confirmed both the absence of the accused as well as his lawyers.

The Irish government has refused to extradite Bailey, whose case will now be decided by three judges rather than a jury. A verdict is expected on Friday.

The parents, son and other people close to Sophie Toscan du Plantier, were however present for the trial.

She was the 39-year-old wife of film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier and was found beaten to death at her holiday home in County Cork in southwest Ireland. Injuries to her hands showed that she had struggled to defend herself.

Near her body was found a large rock and a bloodstained concrete block.

‘Justice will be done’

French authorities automatically open an investigation when a French citizen is killed abroad and the decision to prosecute Bailey was taken following a complaint by the family of the victim in 1997.

Bailey has long lived in Ireland near the home where Sophie Toscan du Plantier was staying. He was twice arrested for questioning by Irish police but never charged.

“This case, even in the absence of the accused, will take place and the work of justice will be done,” said Marie Dose, a lawyer for the family.

The victim’s husband, former director-general of the Gaumont Film Company, died in 2003.

Despite the lack of Bailey’s DNA at the scene of the crime, the British man soon became the main suspect, partly due to scratches on his arms and forehead which he attributed to dealing with a Christmas tree and cutting up a turkey for dinner.

The court heard testimony from two French police officers who picked up the case in 2008.

One of the officers said the suspect was “a man who drank, more than reasonably, who has ‘blackouts,’ who is violent towards his wife… a man who constantly changes his version” of events.

“He was drunk, he went there (to her home), he liked her. I think things went badly wrong because she was a woman who would not let herself be taken advantage of,” the officer said.

French authorities issued warrants for Bailey’s arrest in 2010 and 2016, but Dublin refused both requests, citing the lack of a reciprocal extradition deal between the two countries.

If found guilty Bailey could face a 30-year jail sentence and France could again seek his extradition which would then be “difficult to refuse”, said Dose.

On the basis that Irish justice has found no case against Bailey, who these days sells pizzas in the Irish village of Schull where the murder occurred, his lawyers spoke of “a judicial error” in France, adding that their client had “already been condemned” there.

For the family’s lawyer Dose, Bailey is staying away from the French court “because he is afraid of being sentenced and with good reason”.

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