McConville accused likely to seek High Court bail

VETERAN republican Ivor Bell is expected to apply for High Court bail this week, having been remanded in custody charged in connection with the Ira murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville.

Bell, of Ramoan Gardens in Andersonstown, west Belfast, was arrested on foot of an interview he allegedly gave as part of a controversial oral history project lodged at Boston College in the US, in which he made confessions.

During a special sitting of Belfast Magistrates Court on Saturday the 77-year-old was refused bail by a district judge on a charge of aiding and abetting in the murder as well as member-ship of the Ira.

Boston College held interviews with former paramilitaries about the troubles. those who participated were told that the transcripts would not be published until after their deaths. that undertaking was rendered ineffective last year when a US court ordered that tapes be handed over to PSNI detectives. the interviews included claims about the murder of Mrs McConville, who was abducted by the Ira at her home at Divis Flats, Belfast, in 1972, shot dead and then secretly buried.

Bell's solicitor Peter Corrigan told District Judge amanda Henderson that the prosecution case was that an interviewee on one of the tapes, referred to only as 'Z', was his client.

Mr Corrigan said the interviewee had denied involvement in the murder.

"During those interviews 'Z' explicitly states that he was not involved with the murder of Jean McConville," he said.

Mr Corrigan also questioned the evidential value of the interviews. He said they had not been conducted by trained police officers.

"The defence submits that the evidence does not amount to a row of beans in relation to the murder of Jean McConville," he said.

Some of Mrs McConville's children watched proceedings from the public gallery. A PSNI detective inspector, who earlier said he could connect the accused with the charges, rejected Mr Corrigan's interpretation of the interview.

He said the transcript indicated that Bell had "played a critical role in the aiding, abetting, counsel and procurement of the murder of Jean McConville". the officer said he opposed bail on the ground that the defendant would likely flee the jurisdiction. He said Bell had previously used an alias to travel to Spain and could use IRA contacts to travel beyond northern Ireland.

Mr Corrigan said that was out of the question. He said his client suffered from serious medical conditions, that his family was based in Belfast and that he had "every incentive" to stay in northern Ireland to prove his innocence.

"Are the prosecution seriously suggesting that a man in this serious ill health, who can't walk up steps, is going to abscond for an of-fence where he has every incentive to attend court?" he said. the judge said the case was a very "significant and sensitive" one and praised those in court for acting with dignity throughout the hearing.

She refused bail. Bell waved to supporters in the public gallery as he was led out of the dock.

Mrs McConville was dragged away from her children by an Ira gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British army. a later investigation by the Police Ombudsman rejected the allegations.

Mrs McConville was buried 50 miles from her home. the Ira did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed on to gardai. Her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth in august 2003. no-one has ever been charged with her murder. after the hearing her son Michael said the family's thoughts were with their mother.

"the pain of losing her has not diminished over the decades since she was taken from us murdered and secretly buried," he said.

"She is in our hearts and our thoughts always.

Bell was remanded in custody to reappear in court next month but is expected to seek High Court bail as soon as possible.

* IN CUSTODY: Main picture, Ivor Bell is led away by police after being refused bail on Saturday. Top, Bell in his younger days. Above, Jean McConville


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