The police case against a veteran republican charged in connection with the notorious IRA murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville is based on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers at a US college, a court has heard.
The claim was made as Ivor Bell, 77, was refused bail and remanded in custody by a district judge in Belfast accused of aiding and abetting in the murder as well as membership of the IRA.
Boston College interviewed a number of former paramilitaries about the Troubles on the understanding transcripts would not be published until after their deaths - but that undertaking was rendered ineffective when a US court last year ordered that the tapes be handed over to detectives from the PSNI.
The interviews included claims about the murder of Mrs 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 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.
Grey-haired moustachioed Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in the Andersonstown district of west Belfast, sat impassively in the dock wearing a grey jumper as his lawyer made the claims.
Some of Mrs 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 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.
Bell was remanded in custody to appear before court again next month.
He waved to supporters in the public gallery as he was led out of the dock.
Mrs McConville 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.
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 50 miles 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, Co Louth.
Nobody has ever been charged with her murder.
After the hearing Mrs McConville’s son Michael said the family’s thoughts were with their mother.
“The pain of losing her has not diminished over the decades since she was taken from us murdered and secretly buried,” he said.
“She is in our hearts and our thoughts always.
“Whatever the future holds nothing will ever change that”.