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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 21:40 GMT
'Black cloud' of unsolved murder

By James Helm
BBC Ireland correspondent

A plain Celtic cross with a fresh bunch of flowers beside it marks the spot where Sophie Toscan du Plantier's body was found seven years ago.

She was a glamorous, well-connected film producer from France who was visiting her remote holiday home near the West Cork village of Schull.

Ian Bailey
Ian Bailey was questioned by police about the murder
Her late husband was a well-known film director and a friend of President Chirac.

Just before Christmas 1996 she was beaten to death outside her house. No one has ever been charged with her murder.

This south-western tip of Ireland is home to an international crowd, including celebrities and wealthy business people, and is sometimes known as the "Irish Riviera".

They are attracted by its wild beauty, its isolation and its traditionally warm welcome.

Speak to people down here and they refer to Sophie Toscan du Plantier's death as a "blot" or "a black cloud" hanging over the place. They want to see the case finally resolved.

Lingering shock

Jim O'Keeffe, the local member of the Irish Parliament, told me that before the murder the area had been known for its tranquillity, with a low crime rate, and for its hospitality to outsiders, or "blow ins".

And he spoke of the lingering shock and anger at the killing.

In recent weeks the case has been centre stage once more.

Ian Bailey is an English freelance journalist who lives nearby in West Cork.

He was the first journalist on the scene and reported the story for several Irish and French publications.

He was questioned by police just weeks after the killing, but has maintained his innocence.

Last month, seven years on from Mrs Toscan du Plantier's death, Mr Bailey sued Irish and British newspapers for damages.

His lawyer claimed in court that the papers had suggested that he was the murderer.

Libel case

The dramatic libel case in Cork also heard allegations that Mr Bailey confessed to the killing to local people, and that he had repeatedly attacked his current partner.

Judge Patrick Moran repeatedly stressed that the libel case was not a murder trial.

Giving his judgment on Monday, Judge Moran found in Mr Bailey's favour in two cases, awarding him damages of about 5,500, but against him in six more cases.

Leaving court, Mr Bailey had nothing to say to a throng of waiting journalists and TV crews.

Now Sophie Toscan du Plantier's family is bringing a civil action against him for damages.

Seven years on, the shadow of her death remains over this remote, beautiful corner of Ireland.



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