Netflix is known for leading the way when it comes to true crime documentaries, so it’s no surprise that its newest series is shaping up to be a smash-hit.
Sophie: A Murder in West Cork is a three-part documentary film series that takes a look at the life of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, as well as an investigation into her death in 1996 after her murder – which became a national obsession in Ireland and France.
On the morning of 23 December 1996, the Gardaí – or Irish police – discovered French producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier dead in the coastal outpost of West Cork.
Toscan du Plantier had been residing in her holiday home in Ireland before she was murdered, and the police looked into a handful of suspects, including her husband, Daniel Toscan du Plantier, and former lover, Bruno Carbonnet.
But for decades, the prime suspect in this tragic case – who was never tried in Ireland but has since faced the court of public opinion – has boiled down to one man.
And that prime suspect is from right here in Manchester.
Who is Ian Bailey?
Born in Manchester, Ian Bailey moved to Ireland in 1991 with his partner, Jules Thomas, and settled in the remote West Cork village of Schull from 1992 onwards.
He worked as a freelance journalist, fish farmer, poet, and held a market stall selling pizzas.
Bailey was known for previous incidents of domestic violence towards Thomas, which had resulted in her hospitalisation, and in 2001 he was convicted of assault in Skibbereen District Court.
A psychiatrist’s report prepared for the murder trial of Sophie Toscan du Plantier concluded he had a “personality constructed on narcissism, psycho-rigidity, violence, impulsiveness, egocentricity, with an intolerance to frustration and a great need for recognition” and also had a tendency to become violent “under the liberating effects of alcohol”.
The judge stated that “Mr Bailey is a man who likes a certain amount of notoriety, that he likes perhaps to be in the limelight, that he likes a bit of self-publicity”.
How did he become the prime suspect?
Ian Bailey has denied ever officially meeting Toscan du Plantier.
Several witnesses have contradicted this, and a report by the Irish Times claims that the late producer’s friends recalled her mentioning a meeting for a writing project with Bailey.
While Bailey initially presented himself as a helpful local journalist for out-of-town reporters, he soon became the centre of the murder investigation, with the most damning evidence against him coming from a shopkeeper named Marie Farrell, who said that she had seen a man in a long coat at Kealfadda Bridge the night that Toscan du Plantier was murdered.
Farrell later retracted her statement, and claimed that Bailey threatened her after she initially identified him.
Despite Farrell’s testimony, other signs such as scratches on Bailey’s head, hands, and arms days after the murder were also identified and according to a report from the Irish Independent, neighbours also saw Bailey burn a mattress among other belongings.
On top of that, Bailey also confessed to Schull residents that he killed Toscan du Plantier – but he later claimed he was only joking.
Did he ever get convicted?
The Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland said that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to try Bailey.
Although he wasn’t convicted in Ireland for the murder, his legal battle continued in France, as according to French law, the country has extraterritorial jurisdiction when a French citizen is murdered, so Bailey was tried in absentia, and in 2019, the three-judge Cour d’Assises in France officially convicted Bailey of murder, sentencing him to 25 years.
However, the Irish High Court ruled in Oct 2020 that Bailey, then 63, could not be extradited.
Bailey himself has also pursued legal action twice – once against the media for libel, and another time against the Irish state for wrongful arrest.
He lost both cases.
According to a 2021 report in The Irish Post, Bailey is getting ready to sue Netflix for using his interview in the true crime documentary, alleging in a letter: “At no time did I agree to it being used in a finished documentary.”
You can find more information about Sophie: A Murder in West Cork, and watch the series in full on Netflix here.
Featured Image – Netflix UK & Ireland