Gardaí have new information purporting to show that self-admitted suspect Ian Bailey knew Sophie Toscan du Plantier before her murder – and allegedly may even have dined with her.
new garda statement, taken by detectives in recent weeks, asserts that Mr Bailey admitted he was familiar with Ms Toscan du Plantier, but allegedly then added: “I don’t want the cops to know that.”
A major reinvestigation of all facts and contentions in the case is looking at this area, with progress on claimed encounters between the pair relating to Cape Clear Island, off the coast of south-west Cork, and other locations.
There is said to have been “marked” garda developments across a range of areas in the course of the reinvestigation, with advances on a number of fronts.
Meanwhile, Ms Toscan du Plantier’s former lover Bruno Carbonnet, who lives in France, is being pinpointed over a claim that he and the murdered French filmmaker had dinner at the home Mr Bailey shared with his ex-partner, Jules Thomas.
Mr Carbonnet, previously eliminated by gardaí as a suspect, declined to comment to the Irish Independent this week on the specific assertion that he ate in the company of Mr Bailey and Ms Toscan du Plantier.
He told the Irish Independent: “As you must know, I have not made any (public) commentary in relation to this criminal affair.”
Mr Carbonnet did not address possible garda or French police contacts with him – but he has long since established his innocence through an ironclad alibi and official data.
He was indisputably in Paris at the time of the brutal killing at Toormore, near Schull in west Cork, on the night of December 22, 1996.
It has long been Mr Bailey’s assertion that he never knew the victim prior to her brutal murder in December 1996, although he allows he may once have glimpsed her through a kitchen window.
The Frenchwoman’s former neighbour, Alfie Lyons, gave a garda statement alleging that Mr Bailey and Ms Toscan du Plantier had met. He publicly told a 2003 libel trial that he was “90pc certain” he introduced Mr Bailey and the murder victim. Mr Lyons has since died.
His partner, Shirley Lyons, told the court at the time: “I don’t think you can identify anybody through that kitchen window. It’s quite obscure. The sink is in front of the window.”
Gardaí, meanwhile, have received accounts of a festival on Cape Clear in 1995. In one, a witness said he identified Mr Bailey, whom he knew, in alleged conversation with a blonde woman that the witness later recognised as Ms Toscan du Plantier from media reports of her murder.
There is also a separate account of an alleged meeting with the victim on the ferry to Cape Clear from Baltimore.
Mr Bailey is previously alleged to have told others – including Yvonne Ungerer, Ann Cahalane and Helen Callanan, who all provided garda statements – that he knew Ms Toscan du Plantier. He denies these interpretations.
There are also claims he was seen by witnesses on the main street of Schull close to where Ms Toscan du Plantier was on Saturday, December 21, 1996.Her battered body was found on the driveway of her holiday home the next morning.
The counter-claim is of misidentification.
Mr Bailey has always fervently insisted he is innocent of the crime, while his solicitor branded “a farce” the 2019 French trial in absentia that convicted him of murder and imposed a 25-year prison term. The Irish courts have refused to extradite him to France.
Meanwhile, key witnesses in west Cork are being sworn to secrecy amid growing signs of a garda reinvestigation that is steadily gathering pace.
Locals are now agitating for action over Ireland’s most notorious unsolved murder, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin invited to a “Concert for Sophie” to be held in Schull next month.
Mr Martin is unable to attend due to a prior commitment.
In a statement given in February 1997, two months after the murder, local man Bill Fuller told gardaí: “I also want to make another point which I feel is important.” What he goes on to say next has been denied in court by Mr Bailey.
“Approximately three weeks after the murder, I was in Jules Thomas’s house at the Prairie, Schull, Co Cork. This was prior to Ian Bailey being arrested. Jules Thomas and Ian Bailey were there. Ian Bailey was wearing a lady’s skirt. I asked him why he was wearing a lady’s skirt. He said it was to help him relax.”
Locals now agitating for action over notorious unsolved murder
Mr Fuller continued: “Ian Bailey spoke about the murdered French lady and her French lover… (and) stated that the French lady and her French boyfriend (Bruno Carbonnet) were at their house for dinner two years previously (1995). “This was on the Saturday before Ian Bailey’s (40th) birthday,” which fell on Monday, January 27, 1997.
Mr Fuller has given a new, compendious statement to gardaí in recent months.
Again, Mr Bailey denies these assertions completely, and has stated under oath that no such conversation ever took place, while maintaining – as does Ms Thomas – that separate claims by Mr Fuller, a chef in Schull, are wholly false.
Yet Mr Fuller told the Irish Independent that he had “told the truth all along” and would do so on any future occasion.
Meanwhile, said to be of particular help in the probe is the fact that in December 1996, Schull’s telephone exchange, remarkably for the time, had been upgraded to digital. “It had the facility of providing detailed billing information,” according to a statement in the possession of Gardaí.
This has allowed for the checking of claims by witnesses that they had allegedly received phone calls from the homes of persons of interest in the period after the murder and sometimes for years afterwards. The probe continues.
Mr Bailey made a complaint to An Garda Síochána this week alleging that he had come under verbal abuse from a person attending Schull market last Sunday.
He told his “friends, fans and followers” on social media: “I am just sending out a message I will not tolerate abuse.”
An attempt was made by the Irish Independent to contact Mr Bailey and Ms Thomas.