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Former IRA chief bailed ahead of Disappeared trial

Published 27/03/2014

VETERAN republican charged in connection with the IRA murder of Jean McConville was released by the High Court yesterday after agreeing to bail conditions.

Appearing before the court in Belfast via video link from Maghaberry, the former IRA chief of staff said: "You have my word, my lord" when asked by Mr Justice Weir if he would keep to the conditions for his release.

Earlier the bail hearing heard that Bell allegedly gave advice that the mother-of-10, pictured, should not be spared from murder just because she was a woman.

Prosecutors claimed he told a man, involved in abducting the 37-year-old Belfast widow for being a suspected informer, that he had no problem with the shooting of "touts".

The 77-year-old was an alleged Belfast IRA commander at the time of Mrs McConville's disappearance in 1972 and is facing a charge of aiding and abetting in the murder.

The case against him is based on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers at a US college.

Several former paramilitaries were interviewed about their roles in the Northern Ireland conflict as part of a project undertaken by Boston College.

Although transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, last year a US court ordered that the tapes be handed over to PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville's killing.

She was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in west Belfast in 1972, shot dead and secretly buried.

The court was told that one of the Boston interviewees, given the title Z, spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.

Based on jigsaw identification, David Russell, prosecuting, alleged that this person was Bell.

It was claimed that he detailed a meeting in the kitchen of a house in the Falls Road area with a man seeking advice about Mrs McConville.

He was told about her alleged activities as an informer and his advice sought, according to the prosecution.

The alleged consultation took place while she was still alive, Mr Justice Weir was told.

Mr Russell claimed: "He (Bell) indicates that he told the other person: "Well, she's a tout and the fact she's a woman shouldn't save her."

According to the transcripts he may have taken a different view if he had known she had 10 children and no husband, the court heard.

However, interviewee Z allegedly confirmed he would back up whatever was decided.

It was claimed that he said he had no problem with the shooting of informers but disagreed with burying Mrs McConville. He allegedly stated that informers' bodies should instead be left openly as an example to others.

Mrs McConville was ultimately shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home.

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

Setting out the charge against Bell, Mr Russell said: "The prosecution case is he counselled those who had her in captivity and in doing so he encouraged her murder."

The accused, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, was arrested last week.

He denies any role in the abduction or murder of Mrs McConville.

The pensioner, who has serious health problems, told detectives he did not believe he was in Belfast around the time she vanished.

Opposing bail due to fears he may flee, the prosecution claimed he had used an alias to travel to Madrid during the 1980s.

Asked how long it could take before the case gets to trial, Mr Russell accepted it was unlikely to be "fast-tracked".

"It's clear that there are other inquiries being made, and I don't wish to put it any higher than that," he said.

As relatives of both the accused and victim packed the court, Barry Macdonald QC, defending, said issues arising from the Boston College transcripts would be dealt with at trial.

He rejected claims that his client may flee if released, pointing to his medical problems.

Granting bail on two sureties of £10,000 each, Mr Justice Weir ordered one to be lodged in cash along with the title deeds to a house.

Bell must report to police three times a week, surrender his passport and give 48 hours notice if he plans to travel outside the north.

The judge asked him: "If I release you on bail do you promise me you will keep to your bail conditions?"

Bell, appearing via a video-link with Maghaberry Prison, replied: "You have my word, my lord."

Speaking outside the court Bell's solicitor Peter Corrigan said: "We are pleased he was admitted to bail and we intend now to challenge the admissibility of the Boston Tapes."