Jean McConville murder: Veteran republican Ivor Bell to stand trial

Jean McConville murder: Veteran republican Ivor Bell to stand trial
By Alan Erwin
Published 07/07/2016

A veteran republican is to stand trial over the killing of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville, a judge ordered today.

Ivor Bell’s lawyers had attempted to have charges of soliciting to murder the victim, one of the so-called Disappeared, thrown out at a preliminary stage.

But District Judge Amanda Henderson ruled today that the 79-year-old has a case to answer.

She said: “Having regard to all the evidence I’m satisfied to the required standard of proof that at this stage there’s evidence to admit the accused for trial.”

Standing in the dock at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, Bell showed little emotion as the decision was announced.

The accused, from Ramoan Gardens in the city, denies allegations that he encouraged or persuaded others to kill the mother of ten.

Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.

Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried.

Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.

Post-mortem examinations revealed she was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

The case against Bell centres on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers involved in the Boston College history project with ex-paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Although it was believed transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, pledges of confidentiality were rendered meaningless when a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.

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

His legal team had claimed the case against him was not strong enough to have him returned for trial.

Dressed in a navy jacket, grey shirt and cardigan, Bell arrived at court on bail with relatives and supporters.

Behind him in the public gallery were some members of the McConville family.

During the preliminary inquiry a librarian from Boston College accepted defence claims that former paramilitaries were misled into thinking they could reveal their activities to the study with complete impunity

Dr Robert O’Neill confirmed a contract between the university and the project director guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent American law allowed.

But the court heard separate “donor agreements” with interviewees gave them the impression nothing would be disclosed without their consent prior to their deaths.

Appearing via video-link from America, Dr O’Neill insisted any impression interview tapes would remain secret during their lifetime was down to an oversight in that contract.

A voice analyst also testified that interviewee Z was likely to be Bell.

Defence counsel argued it had not been proven that the case involved original, authentic recordings.

He pointed out the two men said to have carried out interviews for the Boston project, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, had not featured in the hearing.

But Judge Henderson held that the tapes were admissible based on the evidence before her. Following her ruling the charges were formally put to Bell.

Asked if he wanted to say anything in response to the allegations, call witnesses or give evidence at this stage he replied in a hushed voice: “No.”

With the judge having established he has a case to answer, she ordered him to be returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court on a date to be set.

Mrs Henderson also granted an application by defence counsel to amend Bell’s bail conditions, reducing his reporting to police to once a week.