Barrister claims republican is '˜unfit to plead' over Jean McConville charges

The case of a veteran republican accused of involvement in the murder of Jean McConville was adjourned on Friday after a court heard there was issue about his 'unfitness to plead'.

Friday, 16th September 2016, 12:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 2:34 pm
Veteran republican Ivor Bell leaves court after a previous hearing

Ivor Malachy Bell (69), of Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court to be formally arraigned on two charges over the murder of the mother-of-ten in December 1972.

He was due to face two charges of soliciting her murder.

The first charge states that “on a date unknown between the 31st day of October 1972 and the 1st day of January 1973 he encouraged persons not before the court to murder Jean McConville.’’

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The second count states that “on a date unknown between the 31st day of October 1972 and the 1st day of January 1973, he endeavoured to persuade persons not before the court to murder Jean McConville.’’

Defence barrister Desmond Hutton made a formal application to judge Mr Justice Treacy to have the arraignment hearing adjourned for four weeks.

He told the court that there was an issue around Bell’s “unfitness to plead’’ to the charges and said an expert medical witness would be required.

With no objections from the prosecution, Mr Justice Treacy adjourned the arraignment hearing until Friday, October 14.

Bell was released on continuing bail.

The defendant was originally charged with aiding and abetting the murder, and with being a member of the IRA, but the charges were subsequently amended by the Public Prosecution Service.

McConville, a 37-year-old widow, was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972 in front of her children after being wrongly accused of being a British Army informant.

Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried, becoming one of the ‘Disappeared’ victims of the sectarian conflict.

In 1999 the IRA admitted the murder when information was passed to police in the Irish Republic.

Mrs McConville’s body was found near to Templetown Beach in Co Louth in 2003

She had been killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head, post-mortem examinations revealed.

Part of the case against Bell is based on the content of tapes police secured from an oral history of the Troubles, put together by Boston College in the US.

The PSNI won a court battle in the US to gain access to some of the recordings, which had been recorded on the premise they would remain unpublished until after the deaths of those taking part.

One of the interviews was allegedly given by Bell - a claim the defendant denies - and he was first charged in March 2014.