Judge sets four-week deadline over HET McConville murder report

Jean McConville was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972
Jean McConville was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972

A High Court judge has set a four-week deadline to seek confidentiality in a legal battle over the contents of a police investigation into the IRA murder of Jean McConville.

The family of the mother-of-10, one of the so-called Disappeared, is taking action in a bid to secure full disclosure of the Historical Enquiry Team’s report into her killing.

Redactions were made to the document amid concerns about the potential impact on any future criminal proceedings.

Mr Justice Maguire was told on Monday that further attempts to obtain a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate from a British government minister have now been delayed due to the forthcoming general election.

But the judge ordered that the authorities must complete the process for seeking confidentiality before the end of next month in a bid to advance the case.

He said: “I’m going to set four weeks as a maximum period by which the PII claim must be asserted.

“If it’s not asserted in that time I’m not going to allow it to be asserted.”

Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in December 1972 after wrongly being accused of acting as an informer.

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

Three years later the police ombudsman concluded that a proper investigation into the murder was not carried out for more than two decades.

Veteran republican Ivor Bell is currently charged with soliciting the killing.

Lawyers for the 80-year-old, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, claim his ill health renders him unable to fully participate in his trial and are seeking a ruling declaring him unfit to plead.

Meanwhile, several of Mrs McConville’s children are pressing ahead with their legal bid to force the PSNI to publish the full contents of the HET report.

They insist that provision of the report would help achieve a resolution and closure.

The family cleared the first stage in their legal battle last year.

They were granted leave to apply for a judicial review on grounds that non-disclosure was allegedly unreasonable and in breach of an Article 2 obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Stressing the need to progress the case, Mr Justice Maguire described his deadline as “a bit of a blunt instrument”.

But he added: “I have to be firm about this.”