Psychiatrists to testify on whether Jean McConville accused is fit to stand trial

Defence lawyers say Ivor Bell is suffering from vascular dementia
Defence lawyers say Ivor Bell is suffering from vascular dementia

The case of veteran republican Ivor Bell is to hear from two leading psychiatrists over the holding of any potential trial and his alleged connection with the disappearance of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville.

Belfast Crown Court heard yesterday that consultants disagree over the holding of any trial and/or the effect it may have on the health of the 81-year-old.

Mr Justice Colton said before deciding on the issue he wanted to hear from the psychiatrists on the fitness to plead as well as any “potential health dangers” any trial process may have.

The defence maintains the health of Mr Bell, from Ramoan Gardens, Andersonstown, is such he is unfit to stand trial, and that any trial would have further detrimental effect upon him.

However, the prosecution argued that all hearings involved stress for a defendant, and in the circumstances the court could take whatever steps necessary to ensure there was no added stress for the pensioner.

Mr Bell’s lawyers have previously claimed that experts had diagnosed him as suffering from vascular dementia and he would not be able to fully participate in any trial.

As in previous proceedings Mr Bell, who has yet to be formally arraigned on the two charges he faces in connection with the murder and disappearance of Mrs McConville, was excused from attending court.

The charges arise out of the IRA abduction and murder of Mrs McConville from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in December 1972.

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

The charges he now faces firstly claim 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”, while the second accuses him of having “endeavoured to persuade persons” to carry out the murder.

Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow, was seized by the IRA from her home 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’, until in 1999 the IRA finally admitted the murder when information was passed to Garda in the Irish Republic.

Mrs McConville, whose body was found near to Templetown Beach in Co Louth in 2003, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.