An empty dock is what most people remember about the trial which saw Englishman Ian Bailey convicted of bludgeoning French film maker Sophie Toscan du Plantier to death.
The Manchester-born ex-journalist was sentenced to 25 years at the Paris Assizes Court in his absence five years ago, despite claiming he had never met his victim.
Ms Toscan du Plantier was 39 when – just before Christmas 1996 – she was murdered outside her isolated holiday home near Schull, on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast.
Bailey was the prime suspect from early on, but it was not until May 2019 that the process in the French capital saw him found guilty.
Without even bothering to speak to court officials by phone, or appoint a French barrister, he stayed at home in Ireland, where his freedom was guaranteed.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier (pictured) was murdered outside her isolated holiday home near Schull, on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast, in 1996
Ian Bailey (pictured) was the prime suspect from early on, but it was not until May 2019 that the process in the French capital saw him found guilty
Ms Toscan du Plantier was alone in Ireland and preparing to return to Paris to see her then 15-year-old son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, who was 15 when she died
This made the one-week trial something of a token event, but Ms Toscan du Plantier’s surviving family members still embraced when the verdict was read out.
Her only son, Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, said at the time: ‘It is a victory for justice, it is victory for the truth, and now Ireland will have to extradite Ian Bailey.’
The country’s legal authorities never did, however, and last Sunday it appeared that the truth about Ms Du Plantier’s death would never be known.
Mr Bailey collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack in Bantry, West Cork, at the age of 67, ending any hope of him finally confessing.
Now, however, there are some in France who believe that the demise of the 6ft 4ins former rugby player might actually be a chance to reopen the cold case in Ireland.
Mail Online has spoken to legal officials who said that fear and intimidation had led to potential witnesses offering ‘unusual statements’, or ‘saying nothing at all’.
‘That might change now that Mr Bailey is no longer around, and there is no-one to anger,’ said a senior prosecuting source who was involved in the 2019 trial.
‘One of the key aspects of this entire case from day one is that people were very scared about crossing Mr Bailey.’
Such words were echoed by Ms Toscan du Plantier’s uncle, Jean-Pierre Gazeau, who said:
‘We urgently appeal to the Irish police to reopen their investigations with a particularly focus on DNA evidence, and potential collaborations.
‘That is to say that some people around Mr Bailey did not tell the truth. Shortcomings with the Irish justice system must be addressed.’
Mr Gazeau said it was now up to people ‘who know something to contact gardai’ – the Irish police – so that ‘the truth can be known’.
In turn, Ms Toscan Du Plantier’s brother, Bertrand Bouniol, said: ‘Mr Bailey was found guilty by French justice but never went to prison because of the Irish justice system.
‘For us this is a mistake. It is also the fault of Europe, the EU, which was unable to harmonise its justice system.
‘But it is mainly the fault of Ireland, which never came to the end of this criminal case, despite a large number of investigations, and a lack of will and courage on the part of Irish justice.
Ms Toscan Du Plantier’s brother, Bertrand Bouniol, said: ‘Mr Bailey was found guilty by French justice but never went to prison because of the Irish justice system’
Mr Bailey collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack in Bantry, West Cork, at the age of 67, ending any hope of him finally confessing
‘My sister was brutally murdered, and her murderer was able to continue a normal life.’
Three French judges handed down a guilty verdict when Mr Bailey was convicted of the ‘barbaric and atrocious’ murder.
Frederique Aline, president of the bench, said there was ‘sufficient evidence to convict’ Bailey, taking into account the ‘accused’s history, his personality, and his obsession with sex’.
Ms Toscan du Plantier was a successful producer from Paris who was married to the late Gaumont cinema executive, Daniel Toscan du Plantier.
Despite Bailey claiming he had never met Ms Toscan du Plantier, evidence pointed to a romanticinterest in her – one that deteriorated into violence two days before Christmas.
Ms Toscan du Plantier was alone in Ireland and preparing to return to Paris to see her then 15-year-old son, and husband.
But she was confronted by an intruder in the early hours of December 23, and was then chased across a field and down a lane.
Her clothing is thought to have got caught on barbed wire, allowing her killer to catch up with her.
Bailey, who lived nearby, had cuts on his face and hands afterwards – his attempt to blame the injuries on cutting Christmas trees and preparing turkeys was described as ‘absolutely pathetic,’ by one of the French court officials.
The official added: ‘Turkeys are not killed just two days before Christmas, and nobody is cutting down Christmas trees at that time of year either.’
Prosecutors also pointed to Bailey’s ferocious record of domestic violence against his then partner, Jules Thomas.
Bailey changed his alibi frequently, but admitted that he had indeed left his cottage on the night of the murder.
However, there was no forensic evidence linking Bailey to the scene, let alone any kind of CCTV in an era when traffic or security cameras were barely heard of in rural Ireland.
It was 24 hours before a state pathologist arrived at the scene, which meant the time of death could not be established.
What is certain, however, it that there were plenty of anecdotal evidence against Bailey, including allegations that he admitted to the murder in a local pub in Schull. Less than two weeks after the murder a woman called Marie Farrell called the local Garda station claiming she saw Bailey close to a nearby bridge at about 3am on the night of the crime.
But, by 2005, Ms Farrell was alleging that police coerced her into trying to incriminate Bailey. In February 1997, local schoolboy Malachi Reid claimed Bailey had told him that he killed Ms Toscan du Plantier.
Bailey was soon arrested but then released without charge, as was his partner, Jules Thomas.
Northern Irish man James McKenna also told gardai he was with his wife in the Galley Inn in Schull in April 1997, when Bailey admitted the killing in a ‘deliberate voice’, saying ‘that was me’.
‘I could see he was smirking, and I could see he was content that he was able to brag,’ Mr McKenna told detectives.
According to French law, Paris can claim criminal law jurisdiction anywhere in the world that a French citizen is attacked.
If the French had been able to successfully execute an arrest and extradition warrant then Mr Bailey would have faced another full trial in Paris – but in person, and with his own defence barrister.
When none turned up for the 2019 trial, prosecutor Jean Pierre Bonthoux portrayed Mr Bailey as a murderous coward who had committed the ‘barbaric and atrocious crime’ but failed to face up to the consequences.
Referring to Ms Toscan du Plantier Mr Bonthoux said : ‘We must not reduce her name to just a court case. I ask you to do justice to her memory.’
There was no sign of her alleged killer when he had a chance to explain himself in her home city, but Ian Bailey’s death might indeed be a chance to finally establish his overwhelming guilt once and for all.