Ivor Bell found not guilty of soliciting murder of Jean McConville
Judge directs jury to not guilty verdict, ‘you cannot find him to have done the acts alleged’
17 October 2019
The trial of Ivor Bell, charged with soliciting Gerry Adams and the late Pat McClure to murder Jean McConville, concluded on Thursday with the jury on the direction of the judge returning a verdict of not guilty.
There were reporting restrictions placed on the eight-day trial which began last Monday week but these were lifted by Mr Justice (John) O’Hara on Thursday at its conclusion.
On Thursday morning the judge told the jury “there was no evidence that the prosecution can put before you supports the case” against 82-year-old Mr Bell.
“My role now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged,” said the judge.
The prosecution lawyer, Ciaran Murphy, QC, said there would be no appeal of this decision.
Mr Justice O’Hara gave his instruction to the jury after on Wednesday ruling that evidence from the Boston tapes featuring Mr Bell was inadmissible.
The prosecution case that Mr Bell “encouraged” or “endeavoured to persuade” Mr Adams and Mr McClure to murder the 38-year-old widowed mother of ten children in late 1972 largely rested on interviews Mr Bell gave to the Belfast Project, also known as the Boston tapes.
The project was an oral history of the Troubles run by Boston College in the US under the directorship of journalist and writer Ed Moloney where former republican and loyalist paramilitaries gave interviews about their roles in the conflict with the commitment these interviews could not be published until after their deaths.
Mr Bell, a former alleged IRA chief of staff gave interviews to the lead researcher in the project, former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, a history PhD graduate.
During the trial two tapes of the interview given by Mr Bell were played in court where he alleged that Mr Adams said Ms McConville should be shot as an alleged informer – an allegation that the former Sinn Féin president, who also gave evidence, strongly denied.
In the tape when asked what was Mr Adams’s attitude to burying Ms McConville Mr Bell replied: “just that she was a tout. She should be shot.”
Mr Bell told Mr McIntyre he (Mr Bell) had no objection to shooting “touts” but that he disagreed with burying or disappearing them because it “defeats the entire purpose” of killing them.
He said he made that point clear to Mr Adams and the late Mr McClure who, it is alleged was directly involved in the shooting of Ms McConville at Shellinghill Beach in Co Louth, but that Mr Adams and Mr McClure said she should be buried.
When Mr McIntyre asked Mr Bell did he recall Mr Adams or Mr McClure saying that she “should be disappeared” he replied, “Yeah. They said they couldn’t take the heat from throwing her on the street.”
This happened, said Mr Bell, at a night meeting on the Falls Road late in 1972 attended by him, Mr Adams, Mr McClure and a “girl” who stayed in the background.
During Mr Adams’s evidence the prosecuting counsel, Ciaran Murphy, QC, asked the former Sinn Féin leader would he have had a problem “shooting touts”.
“I would have a problem shooting anyone. That’s a very loaded question. I am not on trial here,” Mr Adams responded.
Mr Adams denied the allegations, insisting that he attended no such meeting on the Falls Road with Mr Bell and Mr McClure in late 1972.
With five of Ms McConville’s children looking on from the public gallery on a number of occasions Mr Adams denied involvement in their mother’s murder.
“I categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville or indeed any others,” he said.
Mr Adams said Ms McConville should not have been killed. It was “totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folk”. He said there should have been “compassion shown to Mrs McConville – a lone woman with 10 children – that should have begged compassion”.
Mr Adams under cross-examination from Mr Murphy said during the Troubles if people were agents or informers they were liable to be shot.
“It is a regrettable fact that when armies are engaged in war they do kill those that would have been perceived as having assisted the enemy by giving information or in any way jeopardising (the organisation),” he said.
Mr Adams also was highly critical of Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre and the Belfast Project which he said was “most suspect” with no “real scholarly, historical process of evaluating and bringing forward facts about Irish history”.
On Wednesday Mr Justice O’Hara, following an application by defence lawyer, Barry MacDonald, QC, ruled that the Boston tapes used by the prosecution should be inadmissible.
Mr MacDonald over the course of the trial had argued that the Belfast Project had been discredited by academics. One of the witnesses, history professor Kevin O’Neill from Boston College said the project was “now held up as a model of how not to do oral history”.
Mr MacDonald contended that Mr McIntyre “was a man on a mission and had an agenda to discredit Gerry Adams and other architects of the peace process”.
Mr Justice O’Hara said Mr McIntyre was not a “neutral interviewer”. He said he and Mr Bell had a “clear bias and were out to get Gerry Adams”.
His version of the truth
The judge added that “while Mr Bell may have felt he was free to tell his version of the truth…..the difficulty is he also may have felt free to lie, distort, exaggerate, blame and mislead”.
After the case a statement was issued on behalf of Mr Bell and his family. They acknowledged that the “entire process has been a difficult and at times frustrating process for the family of Jean McConville, who have been seeking truth and justice for over 50 years”.
They added, “From the outset of this process Ivor has vehemently denied the allegations levelled against him relating to the murder of Jean McConville. He put forward an alibi at the earliest opportunity at the police station.
“In the course of this trial process the court heard evidence which corroborated Ivor’s alibi, and that he was not in the jurisdiction at the time of the murder.”
Mr Bell and his family added that the “court has rightly held that the Boston College tapes are inherently unreliable. we now look forward to putting this case and its ill-founded allegations behind us”.
Peter Corrigan, Mr Bell’s lawyer added: “The Boston tapes were of no benefit from a historical perspective, never mind meeting the threshold of evidence in a criminal trial.
“The process from start to finish was fatally flawed, which lacked the relevant safeguards and as described by one expert during the course of the trial ‘is exactly not to conduct an oral history project’.”