French team starts Irish probe into film producer murder

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French investigators are due Monday to begin a probe in Ireland into the unsolved murder of film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier almost 15 years ago, Irish police said.

The team of investigators, including police officers and forensic experts, are to interview up to 30 witnesses and review evidence gathered by the Irish police following the murder in county Cork, in the southwest.

"We are expecting them today. Essentially it is their investigation," a spokesman for the Garda, the Irish police, said.

Du Plantier, 39, the wife of the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the former chief of France's Gaumont film studios, was found beaten to death on December 23, 1996 near her holiday home at Toormore close to the village of Schull.

Irish police twice arrested an English journalist, Ian Bailey, for questioning in connection with the killing.

Bailey has always maintained his innocence and nobody has ever been charged with the murder.

The lawyer for du Plantier's family, Alain Spilliaert, said the start of the French investigation in Ireland was a "very important step."

Spilliaert told Ireland's RTE radio French forensic experts would review items gathered by Irish police at the time of the murder and that "might give a good result".

"The delegation of three policemen together with Irish policemen will interview 27 or 29 witnesses.

"We believe this is going to be very important because even though the Irish police criminal file is like a bible of information there are still some points which need clarification and so it will be very important to clarify these points and this should be achieved through this inquiry."

Spilliaert said the Irish witnesses would have to voluntarily agree to speak to the French police officers.

"My understanding is that almost all of them (the Irish witnesses) have accepted, which is very satisfactory for the family and for the investigators."

Spilliaert said French police would not be interviewing Bailey.

"He is not considered under the French criminal procedure to be a simple witness. He is considered to be somebody who would be charged.

"The process in France is like in Ireland, we are all under the European Human Rights Convention. It is a fair process. You don't interview somebody if you consider that he could be charged," Spilliaert said.

Last March the High Court in Dublin ruled that Bailey, who lives in Ireland, could be extradited to France. He is appealing the decision to the country's Supreme Court.

The Irish police file on the murder investigation was handed over to French authorities in 2008 in an unusual move that was cleared by an Irish judge.

© 2011 AFP

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