What happened to Sophie Toscan du Plantier? The true story behind Netflix’s A Murder in West Cork

Netflix documentary about a puzzling murder case in Ireland 25 years ago.

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork

A crime that has puzzled an Irish community for a quarter of a century is the subject of Netflix true crime documentary series Sophie: A Murder in West Cork.

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It focuses on the murder of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier, who was found dead outside her holiday cottage in West Cork, Ireland in December 1996.

The three part series features contributions from those involved in the investigation into Sophie’s murder, locals in the small town where she was killed, and her son, Pierre-Louis, who is still seeking justice for his mother.

Who was Sophie Toscan du Plantier?

Sophie was a 39-year-old television producer, the wife of French filmmaker Daniel Toscan du Plantier, and mother of Pierre-Louis Baudey-Vignaud.

What happened to Sophie?

Sophie was found beaten to death outside her holiday home near Schull in County Cork on December 23rd, 1996.

While there is a prime suspect in the case, Sophie’s family has yet to receive justice. The Netflix series is the first project the family have been involved in and they put their trust in the filmmakers, including co-producer Simon Chinn.

“What actually happened on that cold December night in 1996, the story is one of a collision of worlds, cultures and characters and it was that which drew us to it,” he said. “But it was meeting and gaining the trust of Sophie’s family which really gave us our purpose.”

“Justice has eluded them for a quarter of a century since Sophie’s death and their main aim in cooperating with us to make the series is to do justice to her memory. We hope we have achieved that, for them.”

Has Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s case ever been solved?

There is a prime suspect in the brutal murder of Sophie – a British man named Ian Bailey who lived in a cottage close to where she was killed.

In May 2019, Bailey was found guilty of her murder by the Paris Cour d’Assises in France. He still lives in County Cork in Ireland and did not attend the trial, but was convicted in absentia. “All they’ve done is convict an innocent man who had nothing to do with the crime,” he told the Guardian after the verdict was announced. “All they’ve got is a pyrrhic victory.”

Since then, there have been attempts to extradite him to France from Ireland but in October 2020 Ireland’s High Court ruled he could not be extradited.

Bailey, who is 64-years-old, denies any involvement in Sophie’s death and has not been charged in Ireland. A former journalist, he was the first reporter on the scene in 1996 and reported on the crime for various newspapers, but became a suspect because he had cuts on his face and hands and admitted to having left his cottage on the night of the murder. However, there is no forensic evidence to link him to the murder scene.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier case timeline

December 23rd 1996: The badly beaten body of Sophie Toscan du Plantier is found in her night clothes close to her holiday home near Schull by her neighbour Shirley Foster.

January 11th 1997: Schull resident Marie Farrell uses a public phone box in Cork to call Bandon Garda police station. Using the alias Fiona, she says she saw a man by Kealfadda Bridge at around 3am on the night Sophie was murdered. Following two more calls to the Garda, Farrell’s identity is revealed to police.

February 4th 1997: Schoolboy Malachi Reid tells police that Ian Bailey gave him a lift home and told him he had killed Sophie.

February 10th 1997: Ian Bailey is arrested at his home for Sophie’s murder. He is later released without charge.

April 17th 1997: An inquest hears that Sophie died from multiple injuries including laceration of the brain and a fracture of the skull, caused by a blunt instrument.

December 18th 1997: It is reported that a series of requests from Sophie’s family for information on her murder file have been ignored, but this is denied by Irish Minister for Justice John O’Donoghue. He confirms that he received a request from French authorities in April for “mutual assistance” in solving the case.

January 27th 1998: Ian Bailey is arrested for a second time, questioned and released without charge once again.

March 1999: French filmmaker Guy Girard tells the Garda that Sophie had told him in December 1996 that she had a friend in Ireland called Ian Bailey who was exploring themes of violence in his writings.

September 22nd, 2000: Jules Thomas, with whom Ian Bailey lives, is arrested for a second time and questioned about the murder. Her daughter Fenella is also arrested and questioned. Both are released without charge.

August 18th 2001: Ian Bailey assaults Jules Thomas at their home and is arrested at Cork Airport. He is charged and prosecuted, receiving a three-month suspended sentence. He admits it is the third time he has assaulted her.

January 2002: Following a report in November 2001 criticising the Garda investigation against Bailey, Commissioner Pat Byrne appoints a review team to examine the investigation.

December 19th 2002: Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s parents, Georges and Marguerite Bouniol and Sophie’s son, Pierre Louis Baudey, begin a civil action against Ian Bailey for the wrongful death of Sophie.

December 2003: Ian Bailey begins a libel action against eight newspapers who have linked him to Sophie’s murder. He loses six of the actions but wins against two newspapers. Marie Farrell is among the witnesses who testify, and she confirms that she saw Bailey at Kealfadda Bridge on the night of the murder.

2004: Ian Bailey threatens legal action against Marie Farrell if she does not withdraw comments she made about him in the media following the 2003 court case. She refuses.

2005: Ian Bailey’s solicitor, Frank Buttimer, says that he was contacted by Marie Farrell, who says she was coerced by police into making a false statement, and she now recants her evidence that she saw Bailey at the bridge.

2007: Ian Bailey wins an appeal in the High Court in Ireland regarding his libel action against newspapers, and also lodges court papers suing the Irish Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, conspiracy, assault, battery, trespass to the person, harassment, breach of his constitutional rights and intimidation.

June 2008: A French magistrate orders the exhumation of Sophie’s body for a post more and forensic examination by French scientists.

July 2008: An inquiry into the handling of the murder investigation in Ireland, which featured interviews with more than 90 witnesses, recommends no prosecution. It is recommended that the Garda files on Sophie’s murder be made available to French authorities.

June to October 2009: French authorities travel to West Cork to view the crime scene and meet with Irish investigators, and two Garda detectives travel to Paris to be interviewed about the investigation.

February 19th 2010: Judge Gachon issues a European arrest warrant for Ian Bailey.

April 23rd 2010: Garda arrest Ian Bailey at his home and transport him to Bandon Garda Station. He is brought before the High Court in Ireland and granted bail, pending a hearing of the case to extradite him to France.

March 18th 2011: The High Court rules in favour of French authorities and orders Ian Bailey to surrender for the European arrest warrant. However, he is granted leave to appeal the decision.

March 1st 2012: The Irish Supreme Court rules in Ian Bailey’s favour in his appeal against extradition to France.

October 2012: Ian Bailey makes a formal complaint that his phone has been illegally tapped for 16 years.

August 2013: French authorities award €150,000 damages to Sophie’s family for her death. Their solicitor, Alain Spilliaert says the award will help the family’s campaign for justice for Sophie.

March 30th 2015: Ian Bailey loses a civil action case for damages against the Irish State and the Garda. He is ordered to pay all the legal costs of his civil action, estimated to be between €2 million and €5 million.

September 2nd 2015: Witness James Camier dies. In 1998, he stated to the Garda that he met Jules Thomas on December 23rd 1996, between 11am and 11.30am and she told him Bailey was reporting on the murder, which contradicts Bailey and Thomas’s evidence – they said they only learned of the murder at 1.40pm.

December 2015: Following a six year investigation that included visits to Ireland and numerous interviews with witnesses, Judge Gachon sends 17 volumes of evidence and statements to the public prosecutor in Paris.

July 27th 2016: Judge Nathalie Turquey issues an ordonnance de renvoi, effectively sending Ian Bailey to trial for voluntary homicide.

May 27th 2019: The trial of Ian Bailey – which he is absent for – begins in the Cour d’Assises in Paris. On May 31st, he is found guilty of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. He is sentenced to 25 years in jail by the French court. Bailey maintains his innocence.

June 21st 2019: French authorities issue a European Arrest Warrant for the extradition of Ian Bailey to France.

12 October 2020: Ireland’s High Court rules that Bailey will not be extradited. Later in October, the Irish State decides not to appeal the High Court finding, ending all attempts to extradite Bailey to France.

When is Sophie: A Murder in West Cork on?

The three episode true crime documentary series will be released on Netflix on Wednesday, 30th June.

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Sophie: A Murder in West Cork arrives on Netflix on 30th June. If you’re looking for something else to watch, visit our TV Guide. Check out our Documentaries hub for all the latest news.