An Englishman long suspected of killing a French filmmaker in Ireland won his appeal Thursday against his extradition to France, capping a two-year legal battle that raised troubling questions about Ireland's handling of the case.
Ian Bailey, 54, expressed relief after the five judges of Ireland's Supreme Court unanimously ruled that European Union law does not permit his extradition to France. Bailey appealed after a lower court last year approved France's 2010 extradition warrant.
"You wouldn't believe the hell that we have been put through by this awfulness," Bailey said outside Dublin's Four Courts building, his partner Jules Thomas by his side.
Irish police twice arrested Bailey on suspicion of beating to death Sophie Toscan du Plantier outside her Cork holiday home in December 1996. But Ireland's state prosecutors rejected the police's 2,000-page evidence file as flawed and weak.
The Supreme Court ruled that EU law would permit Bailey's extradition if he faced an actual murder charge in France. But the judges found that the French warrant specified only that Bailey was wanted for questioning and potential prosecution.
Had the earlier High Court ruling been upheld, Bailey would have become the first Irish resident to be extradited for a crime actually committed in Ireland.
Alain Spilliaert, a lawyer representing the murder victim's parents, said he was disappointed and surprised by the Supreme Court reversal.
He said French prosecutors might elect to charge Bailey with murder in his absence and to hear testimony from Irish witnesses, then use that trial as a basis for a renewed extradition bid.
"This is not the end of the battle," Spilliaert said.
All sides have long agreed that the case against Bailey is largely circumstantial.
He sported cuts on his face and hands the day after the killing that he attributed to plucking a turkey and putting up a Christmas tree. Several witnesses claimed he had confessed to the killing, but Bailey told police he had been joking or play-acting.
The victim was best known for her marriage to French film producer and industry executive Daniel Toscan du Plantier. He died of a heart attack in 2003.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier had purchased a holiday home near the Cork tourist town of Schull that she used on her own. She traveled to Cork two days before her death to work on a new film idea.