Judgment reserved on Jean McConville trial challenge

Judgment has been reserved at a hearing to determine if a veteran Belfast republican is to stand trial over the killing of Disappeared victim Jean McConville.

Thursday, 30th June 2016, 9:23 am
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2016, 10:41 am
Ivor Bell, who denies the charges against him, was in court on both days of the hearing

Lawyers for Ivor Bell are seeking to have his prosecution on charges of soliciting to murder dismissed at a preliminary stage.

But following two days of evidence and legal arguments at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Amanda Henderson said she will try to give a decision next week.

She explained: “There have been lengthy submissions made and I would like to refer to those.”

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Bell, 79, from Ramoan Gardens in the city, denies charges against him connected to an allegation that he encouraged or persuaded others to kill the mother of 10.

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

Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried.

Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.

The case against Bell centres on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers involved in the Boston College history project with ex-paramilitaries about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Although it was believed transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s killing.

It is alleged that Bell was one of the project interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.

His legal team claim the case against him is not strong enough to have him returned for trial.

Dressed in a dark shirt, Bell showed little expression as he sat in the dock throughout the proceedings.

Behind him in the public gallery were some of his relatives and members of the victim’s family.

During the preliminary inquiry a librarian from Boston College accepted defence claims that former paramilitaries were misled into thinking they could reveal their activities to the study with complete impunity.

Dr Robert O’Neill confirmed a contract between the university and the project director guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent American law allowed.

But the court heard separate “donor agreements” with interviewees gave them the impression nothing would be disclosed without their consent prior to their deaths.

Appearing via video-link from America, Dr O’Neill insisted any impression interview tapes would remain secret during their lifetime was down to an oversight in that contract.

In closing arguments Barry Macdonald QC, for Bell, claimed it had not been proven that the case involved original recordings.

He pointed out the two men said to have carried out interviews for the Boston project, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, had not featured in the hearing.

“In the absence of their evidence there is no evidence to the effect that these recordings are original, authentic recordings,” Mr Macdonald contended.

“We invite the court to decide this material is not admissible.”

Judge Henderson will now re-examine all submissions before reaching her verdict on whether Bell has a case to answer.