Locals are still reluctant to speak publicly about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, according to Oscar-nominated filmmaker Jim Sheridan, who has spent several years investigating the case.
“That’s what interested me – the fact that no one is talking about it,” the veteran director told Sky News.
“It was the only thing people were talking about – but not officially.
“It was a scar on Schull and West Cork. “
Sophie was found clubbed to death outside her holiday home near Schull, County Cork, in December 1996 – two days before Christmas.
The 39-year-old was married to famous French filmmaker Daniel Toscan du Plantier, whose films included the 1989 hit The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.
The main suspect in the murder, English journalist Ian Bailey – who lived a few miles away and was the first reporter at the scene – was first questioned about the death in February 1997.
No forensic evidence has ever linked him to the scene and he has never been charged with the murder by Irish police.
However it was convicted of murder in his absence by a French court in 2019, and sentenced to 25 years.
After successfully combating repeated extradition requests from the French authorities – the most recent of which was rejected by the High Court of Ireland in October – Bailey still resides in West Cork and claims his innocence.
Now, a new Sky documentary, Murder At The Cottage: The Search For Justice For Sophie, re-examines the murder, with never-before-seen footage and new interviews with some of the key figures in the case, including Bailey.
The five-part series is produced, directed and presented by Sheridan, whose previous work includes the hit films My Left Foot and In The Name of The Father, both starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Sheridan said only one local person from Schull, a publican, agreed to speak to him on camera while the documentary was being made.
The other people he interviewed in the area were “explosions,” a local term for people from out of town staying there.
“The woman who discovered the body was English, her husband was English,” Sheridan said.
“Most of the people who had something to say were fanatic.
“I ended up talking to a vicar who was so spiritually connected to Sophie that he would be in tears talking to me.
“It’s the only way for me, other than talking to family, to try and connect with his spirit. “
Sheridan said that by “getting to know Sophie and her background” by talking to her family members, it became clear that “a lot of things were shrouded in mystery.”
“Certainly her relationship with her husband was fraught with pitfalls and no one really touched it that much,” he said.
Sophie’s husband Daniel, who died in 2003, was in France when she was killed.
Sheridan said he interviewed Sophie’s son Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud, who was 15 when his mother died and who is “100% convinced” that Bailey was responsible for the murder.
However, the Irish filmmaker believes no one has been brought to justice for Sophie’s murder as the police “only focused on Ian Bailey” and other people may be behind the murder.
“I think most of the people involved – with all their hearts and souls – were trying to find the truth. But they rushed to judge, ”he says.
Sheridan believes Bailey should now be tried in Ireland or that there should be a ‘reopening’ of the murder investigation.
“They can tell it’s an ongoing investigation, but it’s not so ongoing that I noticed anything about it,” he said.
“There isn’t a lot of police activity around.
“Of course, any clues I could find I would have given to the police and I would be required not to reveal them (publicly) because I would interfere in a murder investigation. “
Sheridan said the question of whether Bailey should be extradited to France was a “thorny question” because the case had “exposed the weakness of the European structure when it comes to cross-border cooperation”.
“I would say that if the French police allowed the Irish police to investigate in France, he should be extradited,” he added.
“But if the French police exclude the Irish police from the investigation, then how could you extradite them?”
“The European community must work both ways. This is a fundamental question. “
Murder at the Cottage: The Search for Justice for Sophie, a Sky Original documentary, airing today, with all episodes available to watch on Sky Crime and NOW TV.