Ivor Bell found not guilty of soliciting murder of Jean McConville

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’
Gerry Moriarty
Irish Times
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loyalist paramilitaries gave interviews about their roles in the conflict with the commitment these interviews could not be published until after their deaths.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.

Tapes

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.

‘Deny involvement’

“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’.”

Ivor Bell Found Not Guilty of Soliciting Jean McConville Murder

Ivor Bell found not guilty of soliciting Jean McConville murder
Belfast Newsletter
17 October 2019

Judge Mr Justice O’Hara directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty having earlier ruled that taped interviews, which were the central plank of the prosecution case, were inadmissible.

A veteran republican has been cleared of soliciting the murder of a mother of 10 in 1972, after a trial which heard a claim that Gerry Adams recommended her secret burial.

The former Sinn Fein president rejected the allegation as he appeared as a witness at a trial of the facts into two charges against Ivor Bell.

Five of Jean McConville’s surviving children were at Belfast Crown Court on Thursday as a jury of four women and eight men found Mr Bell not guilty of encouraging her murder.

Mr Bell, 82, of Ramoan Gardens in Belfast, was not present for the trial of the facts which came after he was found medically unfit to stand trial in December last year. He was excused from attending due to his health.

Judge Mr Justice O’Hara directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty having earlier ruled that taped interviews, which were the central plank of the prosecution case, were inadmissible.

“As a result of some legal rulings which have been made over the last two days there is now no evidence that the prosecution can put before you to support the case it was putting against Mr Bell,” he said.

“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.”

The judge also lifted restrictions that had prevented reporting of the two-week trial of the facts.

Mr Justice O’Hara told the jury at Belfast Crown Court: “As a result of some legal rulings which have been made over the last two days there is now no evidence that the prosecution can put before you to support the case it was putting against 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.”

Mr Justice O’Hara lifted reporting restrictions which had prohibited the reporting of the trial of the facts following the verdict.

A jury of eight men and four women were directed to reach the not guilty verdict following a trial of the facts after Mr Bell, 82, of Ramoan Gardens in Belfast was found medically unfit to stand trial in 2018.

The aim of a trial of the facts is to determine the truth of the allegations against the defendant.

It cannot result in a conviction, but if the court is not satisfied that the accused committed the acts alleged, then he will be acquitted.

Mr Bell was excused from attending proceedings at Belfast Crown Court over the last two weeks due to his health.

The trial was the subject of blanket reporting restrictions which were lifted on Thursday following a challenge from a number of media organisations including the PA news agency.

Mr Bell had been charged with encouraging murder and endeavouring to persuade people to murder.

The prosecution case centred on an interview given by interviewee Z to Anthony McIntyre for the Boston College-sponsored Belfast Project, an oral history project of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

Tapes from the project were seized by the PSNI in 2014 following a transatlantic court battle. The prosecution argued that Z is Mr Bell.

Following the Crown Court ruling, the McConville family said they are “bitterly disappointed”.

In a statement they said: “It was not easy to listen to Ivor Bell’s confession and we are bitterly disappointed that it cannot be used in evidence in this case.

“But whatever happens (with) the legal technicalities, everyone in the court this week heard how the abduction, murder and disappearance of our mother 47 years ago was planned.

“For 20 years the IRA denied they had anything to do with murder and disappearance and they only admitted it when it suited them.

“She was not an informer and Gerry Adams has confirmed in court that he didn’t believe that she was.”
The McConville family have demanded a full public inquiry into their mother’s death.

“She was a loving, working class widowed mother doing her best to raise 10 children,” their statement added.

“They murdered her because they could.

“We may not have got justice but we have got some truth. But this cannot finish here.

“We need and demand a full public inquiry. We’ve heard Gerry Adams often call for inquiries.

“Will he support this one?”

A statement issued on behalf of Ivor Bell and his family said: “At the outset the family would like to acknowledge that today and 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 50 years.

“Today’s ruling vindicates Ivor Bell and comes as exoneration after a five-year-long legal battle.

“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.

“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.”

Ivor Bell’s solicitor Peter Corrigan said: “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 is described by one expert during the course of this trial as ‘exactly not how to conduct an oral history project’

Bell found not guilty of encouraging Adams to murder McConville

Bell found not guilty of encouraging Adams to murder McConville
RTE NEWS
Updated / Thursday, 17 Oct 2019 11:20
By Vincent Kearney
Northern Correspondent

Former self-confessed senior IRA member Ivor Bell has been found not guilty of encouraging Gerry Adams and another man to murder and secretly bury mother of ten Jean McConville.

The former Sinn Féin president categorically denies any involvement in the killing in 1972.
A judge in Belfast Crown Court ruled that the key prosecution evidence against former IRA member Mr Bell from west Belfast was inadmissible.

Mr Justice O’Hara this morning directed the jury of eight men and four women to find him not guilty.
“The jury has confirmed, by my direction, Mr Bell is not guilty of the two offences of soliciting the murder of Mrs Jean McConville,” the judge said.

The trial began last week and took place over seven days, but the media were banned from reporting until today.

The prosecution case was based on interviews Mr Bell gave as part of an oral history project by Boston College.

During the interviews he alleged that Gerry Adams and another man discussed the killing and disappearance of Ms McConville during a meeting shortly before she was killed.

Questioned as a witness on Monday, the former Sinn Féin leader said he had not attended any such meeting and never discussed Ms McConville with anyone.

“I want to categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and the burial of Jean McConville,” he told the court.

After seven days of hearings, the judge yesterday ruled that the tapes were inadmissible as evidence.
Mr Justice O’Hara said the person who conducted the interviews, former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, was a man with an agenda who was “out to get Mr Adams”.

This morning he directed the jury to enter a finding of “not guilty”.

Ivor Bell unfit to stand criminal trial over Jean McConville death

Ivor Bell unfit to stand criminal trial over Jean McConville death
Instead a non-criminal mechanism, commonly known as a trial of the facts, will take place.
A judge has ruled that Ivor Bell is unfit to stand criminal trial

Belfast Telegraph
December 19 2018

A man charged over the murder of Jean McConville from Belfast more than 40 years ago is unfit to stand criminal trial, a judge ruled.

Criminal proceedings against Ivor Bell were halted on Wednesday using mental health legislation. Instead a non-criminal mechanism, commonly known as a trial of the facts, will take place.
Bell has been charged with encouraging murder and endeavouring to persuade people to murder.

Both counts relate to the death of Mrs McConville in December 1972.

The evidence upon which the counts are founded was based on audio interviews said to have been conducted in Northern Ireland by researcher Anthony McIntyre and recorded as part of the Boston Tapes oral history archive.

Part of the audio material obtained by the PSNI includes interviews between Anthony McIntyre and “Z”. The prosecution case is that Z is Mr Bell.

A statement on behalf of the judge said: “Mr Justice Colton, sitting on Wednesday in Belfast Crown Court, found Ivor Bell unfit to be tried in accordance with Article 49(4)1 of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

“The judge refused an application to stay the proceedings for abuse of process.

“He ordered the criminal trial shall not proceed further but that it shall be determined by a jury on such evidence as may be adduced by the prosecution, or adduced by a person appointed by the court under Article 49 to put the case for the defence whether it is satisfied as respects the counts on which the accused was to be tried that he did the act or made the admission charged against him.”

Summary of judgment – R v Ivor Bell

Inside the Boston archive

Inside the Boston archive
Liam Clarke,
Belfast Telegraph
17 April 2012

It seems likely that large sections of the Boston College’s Belfast Project will be transferred to Police Service of Northern Ireland detectives investigating the murder of Jean McConville.

There was no worse murder in the troubles. Mrs McConville, a widowed mother, was abducted in 1972, bundled into a car, taken across the border and murdered by the IRA. Her body was then secretly buried and her ten children told nothing. This was in the run up to Christmas and it was only when her eldest daughter, Helen, went to the Civil Rights Association that they were taken into care.

They were later told that their mother had deserted them to run away with a British soldier. It is not surprising that, even forty years later, the PSNI should leave no stone unturned in pursuit of her killers. That is why their ears pricked up when they read an interview with Dolours Price, a former IRA prisoner, in February 2010. Ms Price gave details of the abduction, accused Gerry Adams (who denies it) of involvement and, to cap it all, said that she was one of a number of former paramilitary activists who had given an interview for the Boston archive on condition it should remain closed till her death.

Was she crazy to out herself like this? Well, a smart lawyer could argue that she was not playing with a full deck if she was ever brought to court. Ms Price has received treatment for depression and post traumatic stress, she has been treated in mental facilities and she has been involved in both substance and alcohol abuse.

If, despite this, it was felt she was a good witness, she could have been interviewed in the republic – she now lives near Dublin – or arrested on one of her frequent trips north. For instance in August 2010 she was in court in Newry where she was acquitted on charges of stealing a bottle of vodka.

There was no problem with the PSNI interviewing her – which is why their first recourse should not have been to an historical archive. Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State, has himself has praised the Boston archive as a model which could be copied in Northern Ireland.

If material is handed over to criminal investigators, future oral history projects will be undermined. And it is unlikely to bring justice to the Jean McConville’s children.

This article appeared in the April 17, 2012 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.