Attempt to access former IRA man’s Boston College tapes ‘replete with errors’ court told

Attempt to access former IRA man’s Boston College tapes ‘replete with errors’ court told
Lawyers for Anthony McIntyre and a senior judge both identified errors in the request letter setting out alleged offences under police investigation
Alan Erwin
Irish Times
January 16, 2018

A transatlantic process to obtain a former IRA man’s confidential interviews with an American university project was “replete with errors”, the High Court in Belfast heard today.

Lawyers for Anthony McIntyre and a senior judge both identified errors in the request letter setting out alleged offences under police investigation.

McIntyre is locked in a legal battle to stop detectives obtaining taped recordings of his participation in the Boston College project.

Reserving judgment following a series of hearings, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: “We want to consider the voluminous papers and recent submissions.”

McIntyre was one of the main researchers in the initiative to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Dozens of loyalists and republicans provided testimonies on the understanding their accounts would remain confidential while they are alive. But those assurances were dealt a blow after police secured transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Now detectives want access to McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities as part of investigations into alleged terrorist offences stretching back more than 40 years.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews was served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involved an International Letter of Request (ILOR) setting out alleged offences being probed, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and membership of a proscribed organisation.

Although the tapes were released and flown from America, they remain under seal within the court until the legal challenge is determined.

McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Republic, is seeking to judicially review the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for issuing an ILOR his lawyers claim is littered with inaccuracies. They insisted that he was the victim in the bombing, and that he was acquitted of the membership charge that features in the ILOR.

Other alleged mistakes said to feature in the letter include an armed robbery incident for which McIntyre was never convicted.

As final submissions were made in court today, another of the three judges, Sir Reg Weir, stressed the importance of accuracy in the documents. “This is replete with errors,” he said.

Counsel for the respondents was pressed for confirmation on exactly when the explosion under investigation had occurred.

Sir Reg continued: “You would think police would know what date the bomb went off, this wasn’t a case about a stolen bicycle.”

Peter Coll QC, representing the PPS, replied that bombings were not a rare occurrence in Belfast at the time.

He insisted that any mistaken information in the original correspondence had been corrected and regularised.

Mr Coll also rejected any suggestion that police and prosecutors were pretending to investigate the Rugby Avenue incident as an act of “subterfuge” to gain access to McIntyre’s Boston College tapes.

Instead, he contended, the former IRA man’s legal case was “built on sand”. According to the barrister the legal challenge amounted to a suggestion that the court should supervise a police investigation.

“That is wrong and should not be encouraged,” he said.

But Ronan Lavery QC, for McIntyre, insisted the ILOR should have been withdrawn because of the amount of errors within it.

He also submitted: “It’s striking, considering the budget difficulties on investigations which are live, have never been resolved and in which there are victims, that police time and money should be spent on investigating crimes of this vintage of someone who has already served a lengthy term in prison.

“One wonders how this has been prioritised in this way.”

Why our oral history isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if Boston College case succeeds

Malachi O’Doherty: Why our oral history isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if Boston College case succeeds
Anthony McIntyre’s partial victory against the PSNI is welcome, writes Malachi O’Doherty, but with Stormont in abeyance, a priceless historical resource is at grave risk
Belfast Telegraph
November 15 2017

It was probably inevitable that the police, once they learned that former paramilitaries had told their stories to Boston College researchers, would lust after the chance to read their scripts. The interviews, conducted by Dr Anthony McIntyre, an old Provo himself, promised to have priceless material in them.

With his insight into the paramilitary life, having lived it to the full, McIntyre was likely to reach the parts that other academics couldn’t.

When I first heard of the project, I thought it was wonderful. Here were the gunmen and bombers telling their stories – on the condition that they would not be made public until after they died.

Journalists and writers and interested groups, like victims and their families, the security services and plain historians, had a resource that would open up to them to potentially help to right the wrongs of propaganda and lies.

And there wasn’t much else happening to assure us of a legacy of information and attitude that would potentially counter the half-truths and ambiguities of peacemaking.

None of this was going to be good enough for the police, however. They weren’t going to be happy to have to wait for an old gunman to die before they could read his confession.

They would want him in the dock – even if they could only secure a two-year sentence for crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

And it wasn’t their job to ask what the rest of us might be losing when they went after the interviews; but what we were losing was massive.

When the first subpoenas against the material emerged, several of those who gave interviews asked for the recordings and transcripts to be returned to them. Those have all probably been destroyed now.

Certainly, some of them have.

And a legacy of the fright that momentarily obliging paramilitaries got is that they clammed up for researchers, or, at least, became more guarded.

They are not going to concede information that might incriminate them.

This is a radical change. In the earlier periods of the peace process, some former paramilitaries had been remarkably frank with writers like Kevin Toolis and Ed Moloney and with the Press.

And, thankfully, research continues beyond the scare that the PSNI created, but always with the thought in mind that the police have a will to make arrests and get convictions, even for offences committed decades ago. And even that they are pushing for results that almost inevitably elude them.

The strongest signal of this intention was the arrest of Gerry Adams in May 2014. Republicans said at the time that this was politically-motivated action by “dark forces” in the PSNI. It was, in fact, no less than a determined attempt to put Adams in jail.

And while those of us who write the history of the Troubles might fulminate about Adams’s blithe refusal to ever concede he was an IRA leader, he knows that, if he did own up to it now, he would be arrested again. The effort to create a record of the past through oral history is now being inhibited by the police.

That would not be such a problem if the other mechanisms available to us for securing information about the past were functioning. But they aren’t.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) collated a huge amount of valuable information but distributed it widely to interested families, so there is no central record of its work available to us. And some of the reports that have come into the public domain have proven to be remarkably slight, repeating only what was known, including clips from newspapers and references to books.

In effect, they recycle what oral history we already had, rather than add to it.

The Fresh Start agreement developed plans for an oral history archive but without the Executive sitting to allocate resources to such a scheme, it is currently in abeyance.

There was a plan to create a peace centre at the Maze prison site but that was scrapped by Peter Robinson as First Minister, out of a fear that it would endorse the IRA.

During talks with the parties on the legacy of the past, Richard Haass proposed a museum of the Troubles, an idea I had myself aired previously in articles in this paper and others.

There were no serious takers, although there is a Troubles archive at the Ulster Museum and a record of the art of the Troubles, compiled with the assistance of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

And there have been other fruitful projects, like the BBC’s series of victim stories, which were aired through one year in the late-1990s. Gathering stories of the past is part of the work of all media outlets.

Journalists, however, tend to focus on the story of the day and not to collate their work.

The exception to this was the remarkable Lost Lives archive, a record of all the killings of the Troubles period. But Lost Lives was not oral history; oral history is a record of the stories of individuals. It is memoir.

It is a flawed record in many ways, because people who were at the same location will remember differently what happened there. Sometimes they are demonstrably wrong.

The Boston College project was a brilliant effort to draw on the stories of the paramilitaries.

The police are continuing to seek to advance cases against some of those who told their stories, even though, as evidence, they appear not to be strong.

Dr McIntyre himself has legally challenged the police efforts to access his own story and has now scored a point in the court battle.

The police have been given two weeks to explain why a “defective process”, which brought McIntyre’s recording back to Belfast, should not be grounds for sending it back to Boston.

The case proceeds against Ivor Bell, allegedly one of McIntyre’s interviewees. The defence argues that he suffers from dementia and is not fit to be tried.

The Boston College project was potentially of immense value to historians and to future generations of traumatised families and it has been scuppered by the police, blundering in, to little benefit to themselves, trampling in size nines over the best prospect we have had of an historical corrective.

They are right to be getting on with their work while the politicians fail to develop an alternative. But there are costs beyond security concerns that no one is seriously yet taking into account.

Boston Tapes: Deadline set in ex-IRA man Anthony McIntyre case

Boston Tapes: Deadline set in ex-IRA man Anthony McIntyre case
BBC News
13 November 2017

Police and prosecutors have been given two weeks to provide reasons why recorded interviews with a former IRA man should not be sent back to America.

High Court judges sitting in Belfast set the deadline in Anthony McIntyre’s legal battle against police accessing his “Boston tapes”.

The tapes are candid interviews with loyalist and republican paramilitaries held in a library at Boston College.

Dozens of loyalists and republicans provided testimonies to the college.

They spoke on the understanding that their stories would remain confidential while they were alive.

But those assurances were dealt a blow after police secured transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Now the PSNI wants access to Anthony McIntyre’s recorded recollections as part of investigations into alleged terrorist offences stretching back more than 40 years.

He was one of the main researchers in the project to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews was served on Boston College by the Government.

It concerned an International Letter of Request (ILOR) setting out alleged offences, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976 and membership of a proscribed organisation.

The tapes were released and flown from America, but they remain under seal within the court pending the judges’ ruling.

Anthony McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Republic of Ireland, is seeking to judicially review the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for issuing an ILOR which, his lawyers say, is “replete with errors”.

They insist that he was the victim in the bombing and that he was acquitted of the membership charge that features in the ILOR.

Written submissions

As the case returned to court on Monday, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan referred to defects and inaccuracies said to feature in the letter – including an armed robbery for which Anthony McIntyre was never convicted.

Despite the prosecution’s submissions that those mistakes were highlighted, Sir Declan expressed uncertainly about how the process was dealt with in America.

“We don’t know what happened as a result of the corrective steps taken by the PPS,” Sir Declan said.

He put it to the parties: “Should we not act in accordance with the law and send the material back?”

Following deliberations with his two judicial colleagues, the Lord Chief Justice confirmed the fortnight’s deadline.

He told the PPS and PSNI that they must lodge any further written submission within two weeks as to why it should be presumed that defects within the ILOR were regularised.

The court will then deliver judgment or list the case for a further hearing in January.

Boston College Tapes: Anthony McIntyre seeking to cross-examine police

Boston College Tapes: Anthony McIntyre seeking to cross-examine police
By Alan Erwin
Belfast Telegraph
May 26 2017

A former IRA man battling to stop detectives obtaining his interviews for an American university project is to seek to cross-examine police and prosecution representatives.

Counsel for Anthony McIntyre confirmed the move in the High Court on Friday as part of attempts to demonstrate alleged bad faith in the process.

Cross-examination of witnesses rarely occurs in judicial review proceedings.

But McIntyre’s legal team claim police attempts to gain access to the Boston College tape recordings are nothing more than a fishing exercise.

Earlier this week they secured an order for disclosure of correspondence from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to authorities in the United States.

The ex-republican prisoner wants to know if a US court dealing with the case received his affidavit denying involvement in alleged terrorist offences under investigation.

He is seeking to judicially review the PPS and Police Service of Northern Ireland for issuing an International Letter of Request (ILOR) over recordings held in Boston.

During a brief hearing today his barrister, Ronan Lavery QC, told Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan he will now be applying for permission to cross-examine those involved in the ILOR process.

McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Irish Republic, was a researcher on the project to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Dozens of loyalists and republicans provided testimonies to the college on the understanding their account would only be made public after they died.

But those assurances were dealt a blow when legal challenges resulted in police securing transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Rea, 66, from Groomsport, Co Down, has been charged in connection with the murders of two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago.

Now the authorities are seeking access to McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities.
Detectives want the material as part of their investigation into alleged terrorist offences stretching back more than 40 years.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews was served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involves an ILOR setting out alleged offences being probed, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and membership of a terrorist organisation.

However, the former IRA man’s legal team claimed he was the victim in the bombing, and that he was acquitted of the membership charge that features in the ILOR.

They insist the letter is replete with serious inaccuracies and have pressed for answers on whether his affidavit clarifying the situation was forwarded to American authorities.

Ex-Provo in Boston tapes row can examine PPS files

Ex-Provo in Boston tapes row can examine PPS files
Correspondence on Anthony McIntyre sent by the Public Prosecution Service to the authorities in the US must be disclosed to his lawyers
By Alan Erwin
Belfast Telegraph
May 25 2017

Transatlantic legal correspondence must be disclosed to a former IRA man battling to stop police obtaining his interviews for an American university project, the High Court has ordered.

Senior judges ruled that Anthony McIntyre’s legal team should see material sent from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to authorities in the US.

The direction came as the bid to gain access to the Boston College tape recordings was branded a “fishing exercise”.

McIntyre wants to know if a US court dealing with the case received his affidavit denying involvement in alleged terrorist offences under investigation.

He is seeking to judicially review the PPS and PSNI for issuing an International Letter of Request (ILOR) over recordings held in Boston.

McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Republic, was one of the main researchers in a major project to compile an oral history of the Troubles. Former paramilitaries provided testimonies on the understanding they would only be made public after they died.

But those assurances were dealt a blow when legal battles resulted in police securing transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea. Rea (66) from Groomsport, Co Down, has been charged in connection with the murders of two Catholics.

Now the authorities want access to McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews was served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involves an ILOR setting out alleged offences being probed, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and membership of a terrorist organisation. However, the former IRA man’s legal team claimed he was the victim in the bombing, and that he was acquitted of the membership charge that features in the ILOR.

They insist the letter is replete with serious inaccuracies and have pressed for answers on whether his affidavit clarifying the situation was forwarded to American authorities.

Barrister Ronan Lavery QC said: “The proposition that he was a perpetrator of this bomb on Rugby Avenue, rather than actually being the victim, is such a serious error – an error isn’t the word for it.”

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan directed discovery of some of the material sought to be made by Friday.

Ex-IRA man Anthony McIntyre seeks disclosure of US-UK legal correspondence

Ex-IRA man Anthony McIntyre seeks disclosure of US-UK legal correspondence
By Alan Erwin
Belfast Telegraph
May 8 2017

A former IRA man battling to stop police accessing his interviews for an American university project is to seek disclosure of all transatlantic legal correspondence.

Anthony McIntyre wants to know if a US court dealing with the Boston College tapes case received his affidavit denying involvement in alleged terrorist offences under investigation.

As High Court judges in Belfast directed that McIntyre’s challenge must be heard this month, his lawyers confirmed their related bid to see material sent between British and American representatives.

Gavin Booth of KRW Law said: “We welcome this matter being listed for full hearing and will now proceed to make a discovery application for all materials held and put before the US authorities.”

McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Irish Republic, is seeking to judicially review the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service for issuing an International Letter of Request (ILOR) over recordings held at Boston College.

He was one of the main researchers in a major project to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Dozens of loyalists and republicans provided testimonies to the college on the understanding their account would only be made public after they died.

But those assurances were dealt a blow when legal battles resulted in police securing transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Rea, 66, from Groomsport, Co Down, has been charged in connection with the murders of two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago.

Now the authorities want access to McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities.

Detectives want the material as part of their investigation into alleged terrorist offences stretching back more than 40 years.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews was served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involves an ILOR setting out alleged offences being probed, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and membership of a terrorist organisation.

However, the former IRA man’s legal team claimed he was the victim in the bombing, and that he was acquitted of the membership charge that features in the ILOR.

They insist the letter is replete with errors and have pressed for answers on whether his affidavit clarifying the situation was forwarded to American authorities.

The Public Prosecution Service has so far responded by stressing the confidentiality of the arrangements between the UK and US.

Cases involving requests for mutual legal assistance are commonly filed under seal in America, the court heard.

All issues are now set to be determined when the case gets underway in just over two weeks time.

Cases Tied to Belfast Project Stall in Court

Cases Tied to Belfast Project Stall in Court
by  Connor Murphy 
The Heights

 
At least two cases with ties to Boston College’s controversial Belfast Project have stalled in court in Northern Ireland, news reports indicate.

On Monday, Winston Rea’s case was adjourned for the week after a dispute between his lawyers and the prosecution. According to The Belfast Telegraph, Rea is refusing to sign an undertaking that would allow documents containing information from the United States to be admitted in the case.

According to John O’Neill, the Northern Ireland prosecutor in the case, the documents contain information covered by U.S. treaties that must be verified by Rea to ensure proper handling in the case. Rea’s defense team denies that it is contributing to the delay in the case. Rea was charged in June 2016 with two killings and two attempted murders dating back to the mid-1980s.

Another case has been delayed amid questions about the defendant’s health. Earlier this month, Ivor Bell’s case was adjourned until April because he has dementia and requires medical records to determine whether he can stand trial, according to The Belfast Telegraph. Bell is charged with two counts of soliciting the 1972 death of Jean McConnville. His arrest resulted from the release of Belfast Project tapes subpoenaed in 2011, according to The Irish Times.

It is unclear if the U.S.-connected information in the documents is the same information collected on Rea in the project, a series of interviews conducted at BC between 2001 and 2006 that sought to document the experiences of former members of the Irish Republican Army during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, which began in the 1960s and ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement.

The interviews in the project, which was directed by Irish journalist Ed Maloney, were conducted under the understanding that the participants’ identities and testimonies would not be released until after they had all died.

The tapes were first subpoenaed in May 2011 as part of a Northern Ireland investigation into the death of McConnville, who was killed by a group of people after being falsely accused of passing secrets to the British. The subpoena was enabled by a mutual legal assistance treaty that requires the countries to share information that could be used in criminal investigations.

In Dec. 2011, BC was ordered to release the interviews of former IRA members Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes. It filed a motion to close the case in 2013, and that May 2013, according to The Boston Globe, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that only 11 of the 85 subpoenaed tapes had to be released. In May 2014, the Globe reported that BC would return original recordings of interviews to any participants who requested them.

In Jan. 2015, Rea secured a temporary injunction against the release of the tapes implicating him in the killings and attempted murders, but the next month the tapes were obtained by the police. He was charged in June 2016.

Republican charged over death of Jean McConville has dementia, court told

Republican charged over death of Jean McConville has dementia, court told
Belfast Telegraph
5 Dec 2016

Lawyers for Ivor Bell, 79, told a judge their client had been diagnosed with a vascular form of dementia

Lawyers for Ivor Bell, 79, told a judge their client had been diagnosed with a vascular form of dementia

A veteran republican charged in connection with the notorious IRA murder of mother-of-10 Jean McConville is suffering from dementia and would not be able to fully participate in his trial, a court has been told.

Lawyers for Ivor Bell, 79, told a judge their client had been diagnosed with a vascular form of dementia.

The diagnosis is likely to prompt a defence application that Bell is unfit to stand trial on two counts of soliciting Jean McConville’s killing in 1972.

The defendant, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, did not appear at the pre-trial hearing in Belfast Crown Court on Monday.

His barrister, Dessie Hutton, revealed the outcome of a defence commissioned medical examination to judge Seamus Treacy.

“He suffers from dementia which has a cardio vascular cause and he wouldn’t be able to properly follow the course of proceedings,” said the lawyer.

A prosecution lawyer told the judge that he would like to commission a psychiatrist to examine the defendant. He also requested full access to Bell’s medical files.

Judge Treacy adjourned the case until December 16 when lawyers will provide a further update on how the case will proceed.

Mrs McConville’s son, Michael, was among those watching on from public gallery of the court.

His 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.

Former IRA man clears hurdle in legal battle over Boston College tapes

Former IRA man clears hurdle in legal battle over Boston College tapes
Alan Erwin
Belfast Telegraph
19/09/2016

A former IRA man interviewed for an American university project has cleared the first stage in a legal battle to stop police accessing his confidential tapes.

Anthony McIntyre was granted leave to seek to judicially review the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service for issuing an International Letter of Request (ILOR) over recordings held at Boston College.

Detectives want the material as part of their investigation into alleged terrorist offences stretching back 40 years.

But senior judges in Belfast ruled today that they were not yet satisfied information in the request for international co-operation had been “scrupulously” examined.

The case will now proceed to a full hearing in November.

McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Irish Republic, was one of the main researchers in a major project to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Dozens of loyalists and republicans provided testimonies to Boston College on the understanding their account would only be made public after they died.

But those assurances were dealt a blow when legal battles resulted in police securing transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Rea, 65, from Groomsport, Co Down, has been charged with the murders of two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago.

Now the authorities want access to McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews has been served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involves an ILOR setting out alleged offences being probed, including a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and membership of a terrorist organisation.

Counsel for the former IRA man claimed he was the victim in the bombing, and that he was acquitted of the membership charge that features in the ILOR.

Accusing police of mounting a fishing expedition, Ronan Lavery QC said: “The letter itself is replete with errors, which we say are misleading and require an explanation.”

With leave to apply for a judicial review granted, fuller arguments will be advanced at the main
hearing.

Lord Justices Weatherup and Weir were also told Boston College has now released the tapes to authorities in America.

But the judges stressed that if PSNI officers travel to Massachusetts to retrieve the recordings they must remain under seal and be stored with the court until the challenge is decided.

Outside court a legal representative with McIntyre’s solicitors, KRW Law, said: “These matters should be properly and fully investigated before these international letters of request are issued.

“We agree with the judges view that these matters should be scrupulously attended to, and it’s our view that this has not happened in this case.”

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.