Veteran republican charged in connection with Jean McConville’s murder may not be fit to stand trial

Veteran republican charged in connection with Jean McConville’s murder may not be fit to stand trial
David Young 
Independent.ie
Published  16/09/2016  

The defendant was due to plead at a scheduled arraignment hearing in Belfast Crown Court ahead of his trial.

But the hearing was adjourned after Bell’s barrister told the judge a medical exam was to be commissioned.

Granting the four week adjournment, judge Seamus Treacy said: “This relates to unfitness to plead issues.”

White-haired, moustachioed Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, sat in the dock during the brief legal exchanges.

His lawyers have made clear the pensioner denies the offences at previous hearings.

A number of Mrs McConville’s children watched on from the public gallery.

The 37-year-old mother was dragged from her home in Belfast’s Divis flats complex by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women.

She was accused of passing information to the British Army – an allegation later discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

Mrs McConville was shot in the back of the head and secretly buried 50 miles from her home, becoming one of the “Disappeared” victims of the Troubles.

It was not until 1999 that the IRA admitted the murder when information was passed to police in the Irish Republic.

Her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth by a member of the public in August 2003.

Nobody has been convicted of her murder.

The case against Bell is based on the content of tapes police secured from an oral history archive collated by Boston College in the United States.

Academics interviewed a series of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries for their Belfast Project on the understanding that the accounts of the Troubles would remain unpublished until their deaths.

But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s death won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.

It is alleged that one of the interviews was given by Bell – a claim the defendant denies.