Veteran republican overturns conviction for helping Gerry Adams’ prison escape bid

A veteran republican has won his legal battle to overturn a conviction for assisting in Gerry Adams’ attempt to escape from jail.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 2:29 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 2:34 pm
Ivor Bell

Senior judges in Belfast granted 84-year-old Ivor Bell’s appeal against being found guilty of aiding the former Sinn Fein President’s bid to break out of the Maze Prison during the 1970s.

The decision was based on a Supreme Court ruling that Mr Adams had been unlawfully detained.

Lord Justice Treacy confirmed: “The appeal is allowed, we will give written reasons (at a later date).”

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Mr Adams was interned without trial at the jail - then known as the Long Kesh Internment Camp - under an interim custody order (ICO).

But in May last year his historic convictions for trying to escape were quashed.

Supreme Court justices held that the ICO was invalid because it had not been personally authorised by the Northern Ireland Secretary at the time, Willie Whitelaw.

Following that determination Mr Bell challenged the legality of the verdict reached against him.

In 1975 the pensioner, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, received a five-year sentence for escaping from lawful custody and assisting in Mr Adams’ escape bid.

His barrister, Barry Macdonald QC, contended on Wednesday that the same conclusion was inevitable.

Despite counter arguments that a minister could delegate responsibility for signing an ICO, the Court of Appeal backed Mr Bell’s case.

Following the verdict his solicitor, Peter Corrigan of Phoenix Law, said: “It is now well established that the British Government were unlawfully detaining people without any lawful basis, and as such, any convictions arising out of that conduct cannot withstand legal scrutiny.

“We welcome the Court of Appeal’s decision to exonerate our client, and quash his conviction on foot of the fresh evidence that has since come to light.”

Mr Bell mounted the challenge after being cleared of any involvement in the notorious IRA killing of Jean McConville.

The widowed mother-of-ten had been seized from her home in the city in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.

Following the abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried. Her body was only discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.

Post-mortem examinations revealed she was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

In October 2019 Mr Bell was acquitted of any role in her disappearance and killing.

At a trial which the pensioner was excused from attending due to his dementia, jurors were directed to return a verdict of not guilty on charges of soliciting Mrs McConville’s murder.