Did Sophie Toscan du Plantier documentaries overlook crucial elements of the case?
14 hrs ago
With the months ticking down to the 25th anniversary of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the harrowing details of her death have once again been cast into the spotlight.© Provided by Extra.ie
In the middle of June, Jim Sheridan’s Murder at the Cottage premiered on Sky. Just weeks later, Netflix’s Sophie: A Murder in West Cork was released.
Sheridan’s work presented itself as a ‘Search for Justice’ – a new look at the horrific crime that would perhaps unearth some previously unknown truths.© Provided by Extra.ie Two documentaries about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier have been released in recent weeks. Pic: PA Wire
However, once the series got underway, it was clear that it was only heading in one direction. Similar to the Netflix documentary and the podcast West Cork (which has been described as a ‘masterpiece’), Murder at the Cottage wasn’t so much a documentary about a murder as it was a study of a man… Ian Bailey.
Two weeks after Sophie was brutally killed in West Cork, Gardai seemed certain that they had their man. A tall, outspoken, flawed journalist who had a questionably strong knowledge of the crime.
Shortly thereafter, the murder investigation and the media coverage of it shifted from being about a young French mother whose life was brutally taken to… well, the Bailey show.
25 years later and no charges in Ireland have been brought forward against him and when you peel back the case against Bailey, it isn’t hard to see why. There really isn’t much there.
There is no forensic evidence linking Bailey with the murder. The only person who placed him near the vicinity of the crime scene on the night in question has since emphatically retracted their statement.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions Eamonn Barnes said that the evidence ‘came nowhere near’ warranting a charge against Mr Bailey and that the case was ‘thoroughly flawed and prejudiced’ in relation to the former journalist.
Mr Barnes said that the garda investigation culminated in ‘a grossly improper attempt to achieve or even force a prosecutorial decision which accorded with that prejudice’.
Yet, years later, in every piece written or filmed about Sophie’s murder, Bailey looms large.© Provided by Extra.ie Jim Sheridan’s Murder at the Cottage should be praised for a more objective analysis of the case against Ian Bailey. Pic: Hells Kitchen/Barbara McCarthy via Sky Studios
Speaking in the recently released Netflix documentary, former Schull resident Claire Wilkinson who was interviewed by Gardai around the time of the brutal killing said that ‘you got the impression they [Gardai] had decided on Ian and they were desperate to make it stick’.
‘I can remember saying to them that I was brought up to believe that you’re innocent until proven guilty and that was clearly not the case with Ian and they said “wouldn’t you think if you really were convinced or thought someone had done it, it was OK to do that?” And I said no, it isn’t.’
The critically acclaimed podcast West Cork ran for a total of 14 episodes but a small excerpt from the 12th chapter sums up just how laser-focused it was on the aforementioned suspect.
‘There are other possibilities – a Frenchman who moved to West Cork from Marseille met Sophie one day at a restaurant and then committed suicide just a few months after her murder.
‘There was a German guy living near Schull who had no alibi for that night. The guards spoke to him. He was a big drinker and had been violent towards his partner. He moved back to Germany and also committed suicide.’
Those two statements take up just over 30 seconds of the 14-episode podcast.
The German’s name was Karl Heinz Wolney and he lived a mile from Sophie’s home. He was a musician and had played in Crookhaven on the night that the French film producer was killed.
Wolney returned home that night on his own and, shortly before he took his own life, a friend claims he told him that he had ‘done a terrible thing’ and couldn’t live with himself.© Provided by Extra.ie Sophie Toscan du Plantier was brutally murdered in west Cork in December of 1996. Pic: REUTERS/Handout (FRANCE).
As for the man from Marseille, very little is known and Gardai never interviewed him as a suspect. However, Sophie’s former lover Bruno Carbonnet, a French artist, spoke of an odd meeting with a man during his time in west Cork with Ms Toscan du Plantier.
Speaking to French police in an official statement, Mr Carbonnet said: ‘One day, when on a visit to west Cork, we went to a restaurant in Goleen… There was a Frenchman at the neighbouring table and somebody called him the man from Marseille. I cannot remember his name…
‘He came over to our table and introduced himself. He talked to us and asked where Sophie lived. When she told him, he said he had tried to buy the same house. He asked me was I a hunting man and I said no.’
Mr Carbonnet then claimed that the man said to him: ‘But you’re interested in women?’
The French artist stated that Sophie did not like this remark and that the man from Marseille went on to make small talk about fishing before Sophie asked where his own house was.
‘The meeting was odd,’ Mr Carbonnet concluded.
A fisherman, originally from Marseille, but who lived in the Schull area, the same man skimmed over in the West Cork podcast, took his own life three months after Sophie’s murder.© Provided by Extra.ie Ian Bailey has slammed the Netlfix production as a piece of ‘self-serving, demonising propaganda’. Pic: Hells Kitchen/Barbara McCarthy via Sky Studios
There was the theory of a hitman who had been hired by Sophie’s husband Daniel Toscan du Plantier to carry out the murder. Daniel had been in some financial difficulty and it is believed that Sophie had a large insurance policy on her life that her husband was the beneficiary of. Sophie had also been having an affair in the years prior to her death which Daniel knew of.
Sophie’s husband, somewhat infamously, did not travel to west Cork to identify his wife’s body. Frederic Gazeau, a cousin of Sophie’s, said that Daniel ‘refused to go to Ireland to answer the investigators’ questions. Quite surprising when his wife just died.’
There was also the witness who told Gardai of a speeding blue Fiesta with red number plates that was seen fleeing the village in the hours following Sophie’s murder.
There was the travel agent from Galway who met a ‘frazzled’ Frenchman who mentioned west Cork the day after Sophie was killed. The man apparently booked a hotel next to the airport before leaving the country. He’s never been tracked down.
And now, Marie Farrell has apparently come forward once again, with a new identity for the man who she saw lingering outside her store on the afternoon before Sophie’s murder.
Ms Farrell claims that the man was standing outside her shop wearing a long dark coat while Sophie bought a copy of the French Le Monde newspaper inside and also claimed that she saw the same man on the night of the French woman’s murder at Kealfadda Bridge.
It is understood Ms Farrell has now formally identified the man after she was shown a picture of him by Murder at the Cottage maker Jim Sheridan.© Provided by Extra.ie Sophie’s family are still devastated by her murder and hope to see justice. Pic: Patrick Zimmermann/AFP/Getty Images
Although Bailey features prominently in the Sky production, Sheridan should be praised for an objective presentation of the case against the former journalist. As for the Netflix ‘documentary’ which Bailey himself has described as ‘a piece of self-serving, demonising propaganda’, almost nothing that doesn’t fit with the ‘Bailey did it’ angle features.
And so here we are, almost 25 years since Ms Toscan du Plantier’s life was brutally taken and, although French authorities would believe otherwise, we are no closer to the truth.
It’s impossible to say if any of the men mentioned above were responsible for the horror that took place that night in Goleen. But, given the fact that the vast majority of the past quarter-century has been spent examining one former journalist and no notable new evidence has been unearthed against him, it might finally be time for a fresh Bailey-less look at the infamous murder in West Cork.