It seemed stranger than fiction. An Englishman living with a Welsh woman is suspected of killing a French woman on the west coast of Cork two days before Christmas in 1996.
Sophie Toscan Du Plantier, as most people in Ireland must know by now, was a documentary film-maker whose love affair with our country ended in the dreadful circumstances of that Christmas 25 years ago when her skull was crushed in the ironically-named Schull. The photo-journalist Ian Bailey has always been the prime suspect.
“Evil can’t co-exist with beauty,” says local priest Fr Denis Cashman in Jim Sheridan’s compulsive documentary on the subject, Murder at the Cottage (Sky Crime), “It has to destroy it.”
Sophie first came to Ireland to escape the hurly-burly of the French film world. Her husband Daniel was a producer who’d worked with people like Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni. It was meant to be a sanctuary for her. Instead it turned into a killing ground.
Bailey reported on the murder from the outset. Was he hiding in plain sight?
When he was interviewed by police he had scratches on his hands. He said he got them cutting down a Christmas tree. He also had a mark on his face. He said he got that from killing a turkey.
His knowledge of the circumstances of the case intrigued the police. They said he knew things only the killer could have known.
He’s been convicted of the murder in absentia in France. If he’s extradited there he’ll be imprisoned immediately. Ireland is unlikely to do this. There’s no smoking gun, they say, no damning DNA evidence. Bailey claims it was nothing more than a show trial.
He’s always protested his innocence but he’s been violent with his partner, Jules Thomas. She recently insisted he leave the house they’ve shared together for many years. He’s homeless as I write.
Sophie’s parents declined to allow their contribution to Sheridan’s six-part series be included in the final cut. Originally supportive, when they saw it they didn’t approve of him saying police ‘cooked up’ a plot to convict Bailey.
A witness called Marie Farrell said she saw a man fitting his description looking at Sophie outside a shop she owns in Schull and that she also saw him on the night of the crime. Afterwards she changed her testimony. She’s now been totally discredited as a witness.
The second documentary currently showing on the case is the more polished Sophie: A Murder in West Cork (Netflix). It points the finger clearly at Bailey as the killer, suggesting he knew Sophie and that he confessed to the murder.
People’s appetite for this kind of thing is insatiable. We all hunger for justice.
Sadly, it seems that hunger will never be satisfied for the beautiful woman whose residence in her isolated bolthole was cut so cruelly short on that dark night in 1996 when so many lives as well as her own were destroyed by a random, savage act.