herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

Man to face trial over alleged links to murder of Jean McConville

Ivor Bell leaving Belfast Laganside Court
Ivor Bell leaving Belfast Laganside Court

The prosecution of a veteran republican accused of involvement in the notorious IRA murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville is to proceed.

The confirmation by prosecutors of their intent to pursue the charges facing pensioner Ivor Bell has ended mounting uncertainty over the case.

After a number of court extensions to consider the evidence, Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had been given a final deadline of yesterday to indicate its intention.

A PPS lawyer has told District Judge George Conner, sitting in Belfast Magistrates Court, that the prosecution would be proceeding.

"A decision has now been taken to prosecute this defendant," he said.

Bell (78) from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, was arrested and charged in March last year. He is charged with aiding and abetting the murder of the widow, who was abducted from her home in west Belfast in 1972.

Bell is further accused of IRA membership. He denied the charges.

Children

Wearing a dark grey shirt, Bell sat impassively in the dock as the PPS confirmed the prosecution would go ahead.

Two of Mrs McConville's children, Michael and Suzanna, watched proceedings from the public gallery.

Afterwards, Michael McConville welcomed the prosecution.

"We are just glad the way it has went," he said. "It's in the hands of the court and police now. We are just waiting to see the outcome."

Bell was released on continuing bail and ordered to come back to court in six weeks when a date will be set for a preliminary inquiry to establish whether the case will proceed to trial in the Crown Court.

While the PPS lawyer said six weeks was needed before prosecutors would be in a position to set a date due to extensive prepartory work required, Bell's solicitor Peter Corrigan questioned the timeframe.

He said the crime was of a historic nature and his client, who has failing health, had already waited 14 months since he was charged.

"In those circumstances, bearing in mind his age and his health issues, he's entitled to a speedy trial," he said.

Part of the Crown's case against Bell is based on a tape police secured from an oral history archive collated by Boston College in the United States.

The college interviewed a series of former paramilitaries on the understanding their accounts would remain unpublished until their deaths.

But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.

Detectives claim one of the interviews given by a man codenamed 'Z' was actually Bell - an allegation the defendant denies.

During today's brief hearing, Mr Corrigan insisted the PPS case was "not complex".

Allegation

"It's the issue of is the person on the tape Ivor Bell - and that cannot be proven. And if it was proven, and we say it will not be proven, does that person then admit to involvement in the murder of Jean McConville?"

Mrs McConville was dragged from her home in the Divis flats by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British Army in Belfast - an allegation discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

She was shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home. The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed to gardai.

She became one of the "Disappeared'' and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth.

No-one has been convicted of her murder.

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