Jean McConville murder: 73-year-old man who was arrested is released

Jean McConville murder: 73-year-old man who was arrested is released
BBC News
30 October 2014

A 73-year-old man arrested in Dunmurry, on the outskirts of Belfast, in connection with the murder of Jean McConville, has been released unconditionally.

Mrs McConville, 37, a widow and mother of 10, was abducted in December 1972 from her flat in the Divis area of west Belfast and shot by the IRA.

Her body was recovered from a beach in County Louth in 2003.

The man had been taken to the serious crime suite at Antrim police station.

Ivor Bell: Voice analyst called in for Jean McConville murder case

Ivor Bell: Voice analyst called in for Jean McConville murder case
BBC News
30 October 2014

A voice analyst has been enlisted in the case of an alleged former IRA commander accused of involvement in the murder of one of the Disappeared.

Ivor Bell, 77, is alleged to have aided and abetted in the murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville who was abducted from her west Belfast home in 1972.

Mr Bell’s lawyer told Belfast Magistrates Court the evidence against him “did not amount to a row of beans”.

Mr Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, was arrested in March.

Prosecutors said that an expert report was being sought as Mr Bell’s lawyer claimed he was “being treated unfairly compared to British soldiers who opened fire on Bloody Sunday”.

Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast, shot dead and then secretly buried.

The case against Ivor Bell centres on an interview he allegedly gave to US researchers from Boston College who interviewed several former paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.


Although transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, last year a US court ordered that the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.

It is alleged that Mr Bell was one of the Boston interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.

The accused, who is currently on bail, denies any role in events surrounding the murder, claiming he was not even in the city at the time.

A Public Prosecution Service (PPS) lawyer said a voice analysis report has been requested. She added that senior counsel has been asked to study the case and provide an opinion.

However, the defence lawyer argued that it was “untenable” for PPS to have yet to make a decision on whether to continue with the prosecution.

As well as challenging the need to bring in a voice expert, he described his client as an elderly man facing the stress of being charged with conflict-related offences.

According to the lawyer, resource constraints have impacted on the PSNI’s ability to properly investigate other episodes from the Troubles.

‘Treated equally’

He cited the Bloody Sunday case where British troops killed 13 civil rights marchers in Derry, and the activities of the loyalist Glenanne gang – a sectarian murder squad that allegedly included rogue members of the police and Army.

“My client is entitled to be treated equally before the law,” Mr Corrigan said.

“If he’s treated in some way differently from the soldiers on Bloody Sunday… it’s something we intend to put forward as part of an application: why is Ivor Bell and why is everybody not being treated equally for conflict-related offences?”

However, the judge agreed to a PPS request to adjourn the case for six weeks.

“I appreciate the frustration for Mr Bell in this, but we are where we are. This just takes time.”

Bell was released on continuing bail to return to court in December.

Man, 73, arrested over Jean McConville murder in 1972

Man, 73, arrested over Jean McConville murder in 1972
Jenny Booth
The Times
Last updated at 10:31AM, October 30 2014

Police investigating one of the most notorious unsolved sectarian killings of The Troubles have arrested a 73-year-old man.

In 1972 Jean McConville was dragged, screaming, away from her children in the Divis flats in west Belfast by a gang of up to 12 men and women, after being wrongly accused of being an informer for the security forces.

The mother of ten was interrogated, shot in the back of the head and secretly buried. For many years she remained one of the “Disappeared” victims of Northern Ireland’s turmoil.

The case lay dormant for decades until her body was finally found in 2003 on Templeton beach in Co Louth, 50 miles from her home.

This year the police investigation sprang back to life with a vengeance, after tapes of interviews with an IRA car bomber that were conducted as part of an oral history project and kept locked in a Boston university archive were handed over to detectives.

The interviews contain potentially explosive claims made by Dolours Price, an IRA member who was convicted and jailed for a car bombing of the Old Bailey and who died in January. Though she consistently refused to co-operate with the police, she repeatedly claimed in interviews with journalists that she was the driver in the killing of Mrs McConville, and that the murder was ordered by Gerry Adams, now the president of Sinn Féin.

Mrs McConville’s son, Michael, said that if Mr Adams was implicated in the tapes then he should be put on trial.

The inquiry led to a series of arrests, of which the most high-profile was the four-day detention of Mr Adams.

Mr Adams, who has always maintained he never belonged to the IRA and vehemently denies involvement, was released pending a report being sent to prosecutors for assessment.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland today said that a 73-year-old man was arrested under the Terrorism Act and detained in Dunmurry in Greater Belfast. He was taken to the force’s serious crime suite in Antrim for questioning.

The journalist Ed Moloney and the former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, the leading researchers behind the Belfast Project, had believed their work would remain beyond the reach of the police until after the deaths of the interviewees.

However, in late 2011, Boston College submitted to an order from a judge to hand over the tapes to police in Northern Ireland under the terms of a treaty obligation.

Dealing with the Future by Dealing with the Past: Chief Constable

Chief Constable’s speech at British-Irish Association conference
George Hamilton
06 Sep 2014



When President Obama visited us in June 2013 he said these words “You set the example for those who are seeking peace. You are their blueprint to follow. You are the proof of what is possible.”   (President Obama Speech, Waterfront Hall, Belfast 17/06/13)

It is often easy to forget the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland.

This year’s conference theme is on the Future – and I thank you for the opportunity to be part of your discussion this afternoon. But of course any talk of the future must also facilitate discussion on our past: because to talk about the future, we must be ready to talk about our past.

Obama’s words were a huge compliment; but also a huge challenge.

To live up to such an accolade, requires constant, tireless and selfless work.  It requires us to face up to the difficult issues; to respond to the needs of our society.

There are many areas that remain unresolved; but it is the past more than any other, which “continues to confound the sense that Northern Ireland has left the troubles behind.”     (Peace Monitoring Report, 2012)   

The extent to which the legacy of the past has implications for both the present and the future cannot be underestimated.  Time has passed and huge progress has been made; but for many, the pain is still real and still raw.

A policing role in dealing with the past

I have the privilege of being the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, at a time when the community, together with civic and political leaders, including those gathered here today, are being challenged to take the next steps towards securing a safe, confident and peaceful society.

As Chief Constable, my role is to deliver a Police Service that is fit for purpose; our job is to keep people safe.   Today, however as Chief Constable, I also find myself with a significant role to play in trying to deal with the past.

It was not a role referred to in the Patten Report; yet the past has a very significant impact on both the operational side of policing and the way in which we are perceived by the community. It is a role that presents very real dilemmas and is coming under increasing financial, legal and ethical challenge. In recent weeks, the financial challenges have been brought into starker focus. The status quo is now simply not an option.

I want to talk about first of all -


3260 people lost their lives between 1969 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Many of the cases remain unresolved.

The very cold reality is that the older a case, the harder it is to prosecute. While some cases will lend themselves to further progress through the judicial system, with forensic science providing the greatest opportunities; judicial closure is increasingly unlikely in the majority of cases. Memories have faded; witnesses and suspects may have died. The hurt however will not have faded and many families still have questions they want answered.

Understanding that something had to be done, and in the absence of others taking responsibility for dealing more holistically with the past, the PSNI formed the Historical Enquiries Team in 2005. HET, as it became known, was a genuine and unique attempt by policing to provide a process through which to address over thirty years of unresolved deaths. Its creator, Sir Hugh Orde, was clear from the outset that it could not be a stand alone solution to dealing with Northern Ireland’s past. However, no broader solution to the past was ever agreed and in the intervening years, the continually evolving HET project was left in unclear territory, somewhere between truth recovery and serious case review. This lack of clarity could only lead to problems and the work of HET remains on hold following the publication of last year’s challenging HMIC report following the work of Professor Patricia Lundy.

Landscape of legal processes

The absence of a holistic approach to dealing with our past has left a landscape of legal processes to address the pain caused by Northern Ireland’s troubled history. These include police investigations, which PSNI have a responsibility for, coronial inquests, public inquiries, Police Ombudsman investigations and the Criminal Cases Review Commission; all of which PSNI has legislative responsibilities to in terms of disclosure.

There are new requirements for review, re-investigation and disclosure on an almost weekly basis.

It is not just the sheer numbers of cases, but the complexity of the processes and the resources required. The pace at which we can deliver on the growing demand has become an increasing public confidence issue.

It takes significant time and resource to bring a case before the courts. The officers and staff that work on these historic investigations are the same officers and staff that I rely on to investigate murder and other serious crime in the present day. The caseloads that they balance are significant, and they must prioritise their work accordingly. The inevitable delays only serve to add more pain to families who await answers over the deaths of their loved ones.

Delays are also a significant issue in disclosure, as evidenced by recent media coverage of delays in PSNI disclosing material to some of the ongoing legacy inquests. There is little public understanding of the PSNI’s duties in this established legal process. Disclosure is an unwieldy and complex exercise, involving the review of large volume of documentation and balancing competing legal obligations.

Review, investigation and disclosure on historic cases are professional duties that no police officer would seek to avoid. However, the legacy of the troubles means that the level of historical cases for which the PSNI has responsibility is on a scale which no other Police Service in these islands has to respond to.

The Policing dilemma: prioritising finite resources between yesterday and today

I want to be clear – the PSNI are committed to fulfilling a role in responding to Northern Ireland’s troubled past, not least because we are legally obliged to do so, but because dealing with the past is essential to a safe, confident and peaceful future.

But as Chief Constable, I have to balance this commitment with the very real demands of keeping people safe in the present day. It would be both unfair and irresponsible not to make clear the significant strain that the current piecemeal approach to our history is placing on the organisation I have responsibility for leading. The strain is being felt both in terms of operational resources and, significantly, in terms of public confidence.

I am on the record as saying that I want to fulfil our duties in the professional manner that victims deserve. But even if I had infinite financial resources, I could not service the current demand at the rate that is required because we have a limited number of officers and staff with the specialist skills and knowledge required for investigation and disclosure.

And the reality is that I do not have infinite resources. In fact, I face a rapidly reducing budget, with the level of cuts now so deep that there will be a substantial impact on our service delivery. Our priority must be to keep people safe in the present day.

How should policing be defined in Northern Ireland?

Section 32 of the Police Act NI requires I and my organisation to protect life, preserve order, prevent crime and secure justice. Fulfilling these duties on behalf of the community means dismantling the international criminal gangs trafficking human beings within our community; protecting the vulnerable behind closed doors, from crimes such as domestic violence or child abuse; responding to the economic threat posed by cyber and financial crime; and providing visible neighbourhood policing in our community.

It is also a fact that a small, but dangerous number of violent dissident republicans continue to plan attacks on police. While I can say with confidence that PSNI’s desire to keep people safe is greater than the terrorist desire to do harm; there is no doubt that the threat places a substantial financial and human burden on the delivery of policing in Northern Ireland.

We have thankfully had a relatively peaceful summer; but heightened community tensions over flags, parades and protests mean that the PSNI, for now, must be ready to prevent and respond to serious public order scenarios. As Chief Constable, I wonder how much progress we might make in ending such community tensions if we were able to deal with our troubled past; and plan for a shared future? The 2014 Peace Monitoring Report summarised the situation well by concluding that police have been “the shock absorbers for failures elsewhere.”  (Peace Monitoring Report 2014)

There is no doubt that policing, and indeed the criminal justice system, are being left to “absorb the shock” of the past.    In the absence of a more holistic solution the Police Service is left in a lonely position, caught between legal obligations; financial constraints; and public expectation.

Over recent years we have been striving to manage these difficult decisions. But the options I have around budgets have become extremely limited. Every choice I make has a consequence. If I put resources into one area of policing; I must take it from another. As Chief Constable, my immediate obligations must be to keeping people safe today. So, while we will continue to meet our legal obligations, there will now be change in how PSNI responds to the demands of the past and the pace at which we can service the demand.

These are hugely sensitive issues; and there is a massive risk to public confidence in policing.

Is it right that the Police Service should bear the brunt of a broader failure to deal with the past?

Where next?

There is a sense of urgency attached. Money will drive the change whether we want it or not. But, if we are courageous enough, the change can be harnessed as an opportunity to make a difference for those who have been hurt by the past. Achieving such change lies well beyond the remit of policing, although we will play our part. It requires all of us to be selfless; to go beyond our comfort zones; and have challenging conversations, such as the one initiated by the Attorney General almost a year ago.

Are the processes of current criminal law really capable of healing the hurt, establishing truth and answering questions regarding the conflict?

In the sixteen years since the Good Friday Agreement, while we have failed to agree a more holistic approach to the past, there has been significant work conducted quietly and diligently by the likes of Healing Through Remembering, the WAVE Trauma Centre and many more Groups.

This work in turn contributed to the substantial report by Eames Bradley; which itself contributed to the more recent Haass proposals. The results of all this work indicate that, while we seem to understand the need for change, there is no sign of political consensus on how to make progress.

I fully accept that reaching agreement on such a challenging issue is not easy. But, to continue to ignore, hesitate or procrastinate on the past will have unpredictable and far reaching consequences. If our own politicians cannot reach consensus on the issue, then it would seem appropriate and necessary to seek and accept much more “hands on” support from the British and Irish Governments; and indeed other interested and influential observers of our peace process.

The status quo is simply not an option. My view is that action is needed if policing, and indeed our peace process, is not to be dragged backward. We must strive for something better. We owe it to all of those who have suffered; and we owe it to the children and young people of today who have the right to a safe, confident and peaceful future.

In closing, I will quote Hannah Nelson, the school girl, who welcomed President Obama on his 2013 visit to Northern Ireland: “We should not let the past pull us apart and stop us from moving forward… Our past. Our future. It is all about time… It is in the present time that we need to be responsible, accountable people; and live to make a better future for ourselves.”  ( Hannah Nelson, Waterfront Hall, Belfast 17/06/13)

A Parody of a Satire of a Farce

A Parody of a Satire of a Farce
Chris Bray
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ivor Bell was back in court this week, where his lawyer asked the judge to throw out the increasingly weak and stale charges against him. Here’s how the Belfast Telegraph explains the judge’s response:

“But after being told prosecutors want another eight weeks to consult with police, District Judge Fiona Bagnall indicated that the defence application should wait until full papers are served.”

Ivor Bell was arrested in March. Now, in September, prosecutors in Northern Ireland can’t make a decision about whether or not to pursue his prosecution, because they need some time to consult with the police on the case.

If six months of consultation hasn’t been enough, another two isn’t going to help. Give it up, folks.

Jean McConville murder: IRA suspect’s lawyer slams Boston College ‘evidence’

Jean McConville murder: IRA suspect’s lawyer slams Boston College ‘evidence’
Former IRA negotiator Ivor Bell’s lawyer blasts tapes used to charge his client in Northern Ireland as a ‘complete sham’
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian
Thursday 4 September 2014

The use of the controversial Boston College tapes to charge a former IRA negotiator with the murder of a mother of 10 has been branded a “complete sham”.

A lawyer for Ivor Bell demanded that the case against his client should be thrown out.

The Crown alleges that Bell is Mr Z on two taped interviews for the Belfast Project in which it is claimed he spoke about the circumstances of how widow Jean McConville was dragged from her children at gunpoint, driven across the Irish border and then murdered.

The 1972 disappearance of McConville resulted in Gerry Adams’ arrest earlier this year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland questioned the Sinn Féin president over allegations that he gave the order for the woman to be kidnapped, killed and then buried in secret – a claim Adams has always denied.

Bell, 77, from the Andersonstown district of Belfast, was arrested in March and charged with IRA membership and aiding and abetting the murder.

The case against him rests on two interviews given to the Belfast Project. Among those who gave testimony to the project was the late IRA Belfast commander, Brendan Hughes, whose interview included the allegations against Adams.

Bell – who is on bail – denies any role in events surrounding the murder, saying he was not even in the city at the time.

As the IRA veteran appeared before Belfast magistrates’ court on Thursday for an update in the case, his lawyer sought a direction from the Public Prosecution Service to discontinue the case.

Peter Corrigan, defending, claimed the level of disclosure violated an international treaty between the US and the UK.

In a scathing attack on the research initiative, he argued that it was unreliable. “Boston College carried out no safeguards in relation to obtaining the interviews. At first instance the court must be satisfied that the evidence has been lawfully obtained. It’s our case that the Boston College project was a complete sham.”

District Judge Fiona Bagnall indicated that the defence application should wait until full papers were served.

Adjourning proceedings until 30 October, Judge Bagnall said: “I would urge the prosecution to endeavour to prepare this case as quickly as possible.”

The Urgent Search for Justice in a 1972 Murder, Cont

The Urgent Search for Justice in a 1972 Murder, Cont.
Chris Bray
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ivor Bell was arrested in March. It’s now September, and his prosecution has not gone forward. When, if ever, will he brought back into court? Six months, no action, dead silence.

Gerry Adams was arrested at the end of April. It’s now September, and no decision has been announced regarding the possibility he’ll be charged in Jean McConville’s 1972 kidnapping and murder.

At about the same time, Helen McKendry said publicly that she knew who had kidnapped her mother, and said she would go to the police to name names. It is now September, and we have no public indication that the PSNI has acted upon, or even received, the information that McKendry said she was about to bring to them.

Someone at the PSNI leaked the news, back in May, that the police would be returning to the archives at Boston College for new subpoenas of the entire Belfast Project. It’s now September, and there are no publicly available signs that those subpoenas were ever served.

The investigation into the murder of Jean McConville has stalled or evaporated. It’s time for the PSNI and the PPS to either take action or provide some explanation. What has been the point of all this?

Do it or give it up, publicly and explicitly. It’s time.


CHRIS BRAY: PSNI Theatre of Shadows

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
Chris Bray
Friday, July 11, 2014

In October 2012, news stories announced that the Police Service of Northern Ireland would be pursuing subpoenas of tapes and notes from interviews with former IRA member Dolours Price. The PSNI had already gone after Dolours Price interviews archived at Boston College, but this new effort was to be directed at the newspaper and TV journalists who had interviewed Price about the BC subpoenas. In the crosshairs: CBS News and the Sunday Telegraph.

More than a year and a half later, there is no evidence that those subpoenas ever arrived. When Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams emerged from his four-day interrogation at the PSNI’s Antrim station, he said that police had confronted him with material from the Boston College interviews; he made no mention of CBS or Telegraph materials. And my own tedious search of Pacer, the federal court case management website, turns up no evidence of subpoenas served on CBS News headquarters in New York.

To be sure, we can’t see very far into the underlying events, and it’s not clear what kind of contest may have taken place over this threat of subpoenas directed against journalists. I’ve been asking journalists and public affairs staff at CBS News and the Telegraph if they received subpoenas, or discussed the possibility of subpoenas with the PSNI, but those questions have gone entirely unanswered. Liz Young, the public affairs director at the PSNI, offered this careful non-answer to my questions: “Given that investigations are ongoing we are not in the position to either deny or confirm that a subpoena was sought and no inference should be taken from this.” So the conclusion has to balance the likely with the wholly unknown: It appears that the PSNI threatened journalists with subpoenas, but then didn’t follow through, and it’s not possible at this point to know why the threatened subpoenas apparently didn’t arrive.

Now: Spot the pattern. In May of this year, a new round of news stories announced that the PSNI would be seeking new subpoenas to secure every Belfast Project interview archived at Boston College. Again, no one is answering questions, but there’s no sign that those subpoenas have arrived.

Meanwhile, the high-profile arrest of Gerry Adams resulted in nothing more than the four-day-long collapse of the PSNI’s souffle. Three years after the Grand Inquisition began, Adams is a free man, and would not seem to have much reason to worry. The other big event in the PSNI’s supposed murder investigation was the March arrest of former IRA leader Ivor Bell, long purported to have been chief of staff to Adams in the 1970s IRA in Belfast. Bell was charged with aiding and abetting McConville’s murder, not with committing it; as yet, the PSNI hasn’t charged a single person with actually kidnapping McConville or actually killing her. And Bell is also a free man, released on bail as the Public Prosecution Service tries to decide whether or not to bother taking the charges to trial. They do not seem to be in any particular hurry.

So the PSNI’s “investigation” into the 1972 murder of Jean McConville — an investigation opened 39 years after the event — has made more noise than progress: some arrests that led to the release of those arrested; an arrest, with weak and likely to be abandoned charges, of someone who isn’t alleged to have killed McConville; and a storm of threats and promises that have mostly seemed to evaporate.

The available evidence continues to support the argument that I’ve now been making for more than three years: The PSNI is putting on a show, not a murder investigation.

But then spot the other pattern: Many news stories reported the PSNI’s claim that it would subpoena CBS News and the Telegraph; none reported that the subpoenas didn’t arrive. Many news stories reported that the PSNI would be pursuing the whole Belfast Project archive at Boston College; no news stories have reported that those new subpoenas haven’t been served. Many news stories reported the dramatic arrests of Adams and Bell; few journalists appear to have noticed that the air has leaked out of those arrests.

In Indonesia, puppeteers perform Wayang Kulit, a theater of shadows in which images are projected on a screen by performers who stand behind it. The PSNI is the Dalang, the puppeteer, in the shadow play of the Jean McConville “investigation.” And the news media continues to treat the play as real life.

Urgent Murder Investigation (cont.)

Urgent Murder Investigation (cont.)
Chris Bray
23 June 2014

On May 22, BBC News reported that detectives in the Police Service of Northern Ireland had decided to pursue new and very broad subpoenas of the Belfast Project archives at Boston College. The BBC reported that news in the present tense, writing that the PSNI “is seeking” all of that archival material.

Today is June 23, and more than a month has passed. Neither the Department of Justice nor Boston College will answer questions from me, anymore, and the PSNI never did in the first place. It’s possible that the PSNI is actively pursuing subpoenas, and it’s possible that the DOJ is actively preparing those subpoenas. But I searched Pacer, today — that’s the case management system for the federal courts, where case documentation can be accessed and downloaded — and I can find no sign that new subpoenas have been prepared or served.

Time will tell, but I wondered last month if the PSNI was wagging its dick at critics, in a fit of pique, with a piece of public theater that was designed to produce fear and worry rather than real investigative gains. How often do you see police departments announcing in the newspaper who they’re going to raid next week?

In any event, the other shoe does not appear to have dropped, or at least not yet. Let us hope that some politicians and criminal justice bureaucrats have come to their senses.

Justice on the Cheap at the Cost of History

Justice on the Cheap at the Cost of History
Thing Discovered to Be What It Is
Chris Bray
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The legal justice system in Northern Ireland is now discovering something that they might always have known, if they had ever bothered to ask.

Lawyers for Ivor Bell, who stands accused of long-ago IRA membership and complicity in the events leading to the 1972 murder of Belfast widow Jean McConville, have argued before a judge that the oral history interviews being used against their client are subjective and unreliable. They are. Indeed, they must necessarily be all of the things Bell’s lawyers say they are. Oral history interviews are valuable to historians precisely because they are entirely subjective, the personally framed stories that people tell about themselves. Subjectivity and unreliable narration aren’t a failure of the form; they’re an inevitable feature.

In Los Angeles, locked in the archives at the University of California, researchers can find the massive transcript of a long series of interviews conducted with Jack Tenney, a California state legislator during the communist-hunting years of the McCarthy era in the United States. For years, Tenney chaired a committee that found communists under every rock in Hollywood, and nearly every rock everywhere else. “You can no more coexist with communism,” Tenney said, “than you can coexist with a nest of rattlesnakes.”

There was just one problem for California’s leading slayer of far-left monsters: He had been a well-known and longtime activist on the political left. He spent the rest of his life trying to forget that inconvenient past.

The oral history interviews archived at UCLA endlessly reveal the depth of Tenney’s later self-deception, as the interviewer leads him through a series of events and asks for his explanation. His membership in the leftist National Lawyers Guild? Well, see, he was sitting in his office when this young man came by and asked for two dollars for some new organization, and Tenney was distracted, so he fumbled for his wallet and paid the initiation fee, not knowing what he was joining. He was later spotted at an NLG convention, wearing a delegate’s ribbon on his lapel, because he had checked into the hotel on business without knowing the Guild was meeting there. Then he bumped into some very, very distant acquaintances, who insisted on giving him a ribbon as a friendly gesture, and he didn’t want to offend them, so….

Tenney’s interviews go on like this for hundreds of pages, revealing a man at war with his own life and trying to talk his way out of his past. The interviews are, in other words, oral history: True in parts, false in parts, often deeply revealing in both. The way a person lies about his own life tells you as much about who he is as the parts that are factually accurate.

The Belfast Project, the oral history interviews of Northern Ireland paramilitary fighters conducted under the aegis of Boston College, could have been a project of enormous value for historians. It would not have been valuable because every word in every interview was true, and no historian would have approached the interviews on those terms. The richness of the project would have been found in its collisions between verifiable fact and proven deception, in the way people told their own stories about the politics of a violent past. The collection would have been an extraordinary resource, but will now be taken apart and destroyed, piece by piece.

That needless act of destruction is taking place because of the breathtaking naivete and laziness of the PSNI’s hapless and self-interested detectives, who believed they could make up for a forty-year investigative failure by going to the Burns Library and checking out a set of interviews that someone else bothered to conduct. Police in Northern Ireland apparently believed they could seize a set of academic interviews, type a few pieces into a report for prosecutors, and deliver some justice on the cheap.

Few authorities have ever been more wrong, or more avoidably foolish. Oral history interviews are not police documents. It was stupid to believe they could be.