Bell remanded over Jean McConville murder
A veteran republican charged in connection with the IRA murder more than 40 years ago of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville has been remanded in custody by Laganside Magistrates Court.
Ivor Bell, 77, is accused of aiding and abetting in the murder as well as membership of the IRA.
The court heard police moved against Mr Bell on the basis of an interview he had given researchers compiling a Troubles archive at Boston College in America – tapes a US court ordered to be handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The interviews included claims about the murder of Ms McConville, who was abducted by the IRA at her home at Divis Flats, Belfast in 1972, shot dead and then secretly buried.
Applying for bail, Peter Corrigan, representing Mr Bell, told district judge Amanda Henderson that the prosecution case was that an interviewee on one of the Boston tapes, referred to only as ‘Z ‘, was his client.
But the solicitor insisted the person interviewed on the tape had denied any involvement in the murder.
“During those interviews Z explicitly states that he was not involved with the murder of Jean McConville,” he said.
Mr Corrigan also questioned the evidential value of the interviews, pointing out that they had not been conducted by trained police officers.
“The defence submits that the evidence does not amount to a row of beans in relation to the murder of Jean McConville,” he said.
Mr Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in the Andersonstown district of west Belfast, sat impassively in the dock as his lawyer made the claims.
Some of Ms McConville’s children watched on from the public gallery.
A PSNI detective inspector, who earlier told the judge he could connect the accused with the charges, rejected Mr Corrigan’s interpretation of the Boston College interview.
He claimed the transcript actually indicated Mr Bell had “played a critical role in the aiding, abetting, counsel and procurement of the murder of Jean McConville”.
The officer said he opposed bail on the ground that the defendant would likely flee the jurisdiction.
He revealed that he had previously used an alias to travel to Spain and predicted he could use contacts within the IRA to travel beyond Northern Ireland.
But Mr Corrigan said that was out of the question, noting that his client suffered from a range of serious medical conditions, that his family was based in Belfast and that he had “every incentive” to stay in Northern Ireland to prove his innocence.
“Are the prosecution seriously suggesting that a man in this serious ill health, who can’t walk up steps, is going to abscond for an offence where he has every incentive to attend court?” he said.
Judge Henderson said the case was a very “significant and sensitive” one and praised those in court for acting with dignity through the hearing.
She said she was more convinced with the argument the prosecution had made.
“I am persuaded by the prosecution in this case and on that basis I am refusing bail,” she said.
Mr Bell was arrested on Tuesday.
His solicitor said Mr Bell denies any role in Ms McConville’s murder.
He is due in court again on the 11 April.
The murder of the 37-year-old is one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles.
She was dragged away from her children by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British Army in Belfast at the time.
An investigation later carried out by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman rejected the allegations.
She was shot in the back of the head and buried 80km from her home.
The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed on to police in the Irish Republic.
She became one of the so-called Disappeared, and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach, in north Louth.
Nobody has ever been charged with her murder.
Mr Bell was among of a delegation of republicans, which included Gerry Adams, now the Sinn Féin president, and Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and a former IRA commander in Derry who were flown by the RAF to London to have ceasefire talks with British ministers in 1972.
But the truce collapsed within days.