By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A new investigation into the brutal murder of French TV producer Sophie Toscan de Plantier in West Cork more than five years ago has been ordered by Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne.
Du Plantier was found battered to death within yards of her holiday home on Dece. 23, 1996 in the Toomore valley on the Mizen peninsula.
The 38-year-old victim was the third wife of producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a leading figure in the French film world.
Gardai interviewed more than 1,000 people and submitted an extensive file to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It had been referred back to gardai on a number of occasions for additional information.
However, it is understood the DPP has now ruled out a prosecution based on the investigation so far because there is insufficient evidence.
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A Garda spokesman said Byrne has appointed two senior officers, Det. Chief Superintendent Austin McNally, head of the Bureau of Fraud Investigation, and Det.e Superintendent Joe McGarty from Santry in Dublin, to take charge of the new investigation.
“Their team will conduct a review of the overall investigation into the matter to include revisiting the information gathered and looking into issues raised by the DPP,” he said.
The new investigation is being compared to a 1998 initiative by Byrne when he set up Operation TRACE (Tracing, Reviewing and Collating Evidence) to reexamine a series of unresolved disappearances of young women over the previous 20 years.
It is based on policing procedures pioneered in the US know as “cold case” units, where new detectives take a fresh look at unsolved crimes and see if any more up-to-date techniques can be used.
Gardai revealed last month that small blood samples taken from the scene of the murder of du Plantier have been sent to Britain for processing and analysis using new DNA and genetic testing developments.
The du Plantier killing was the first murder in living memory in the area and the eve-of-Christmas attack shocked the quiet community.
Her body, dressed in night-clothes and wearing boots, was discovered by a neighbor.
A post mortem found she had suffered severe head and facial injuries, which had been caused by a blunt instrument.
Since the murder, an Englishman has been arrested and questioned on a number of occasions but has always been released without charge.