Northern Ireland news

Former IRA man Ivor Bell cleared of Jean McConville charges

Ivor Bell. Picture by Hugh Russell.

VETERAN republican Ivor Bell was acquitted yesterday of any involvement in the IRA's abduction, murder and disappearance of mother-of-ten Jean McConville.

Mr Bell was found not guilty of having done two acts of soliciting to murder mother-of-ten Jean McConville in 1972 after a judge ruled the Crown's main evidence was "inadmissible."

The trial - which saw former MP Gerry Adams called as a witness - commenced last week but could not be reported on due to a restriction which was only lifted yesterday.

A jury of eight men and four women were sworn to preside over the trial and were told their role was to determine whether or not defendant Ivor Bell solicited the 1972 murder of Jean McConville by encouraging others not before the court to murder her, and endeavouring to persuade others to murder her.

After hearing evidence from a number of witnesses, the jury was addressed by Mr Justice O'Hara who said that as a result of some legal rulings to legal arguments there was now no evidence which the prosecution could put to them to support the case against Mr Bell.

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"My ruling now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged," he said.

Mrs McConville (38) was dragged from her Divis home by a masked gang in late 1972 and was murdered and 'disappeared' by the IRA.

Mr Bell, an 82-year old former IRA man from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, was excused from attending due to ill health.

In a hearing which spanned seven days, the jury was played extracts of audio tapes from the controversial Boston College's Belfast Project. The project was designed to become an oral historical account of the Troubles, and included interviews with former senior paramilitaries about their roles during the conflict.

The director of the project was journalist Ed Moloney, while the interviewer was former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre.

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Extracts of two interviews, which were conducted with interviewee Z and who trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara ruled was Mr Bell, were played twice to the jury last week.

In the tapes, Mr Bell claimed that in late 1972 he and two men he named as Gerry Adams and the now-deceased Pat McClure held a meeting where Mrs McConville's fate was discussed.

All the allegations made against Mr Adams were strenuously denied when he was called to give evidence earlier this week.

In his ruling, Mr Justice O'Hara noted that Mr McIntyre - who refused to co-operate with the court proceedings - "had an agenda" against Gerry Adams, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

He also felt that after listening to the interview with Mr Bell, the tapes "clearly show Mr McIntyre leading Mr Bell to speak against Gerry Adams."

Mr Justice O'Hara also raised the issue of a guarantee the interviewees - including Ivor Bell - were given at the time, namely their tapes would not be released until after their deaths.

The judge said this guarantee may have led to a situation where while Mr Bell felt "liberated to tell the truth ... the difficulty is he may also gave felt free to lie, distortion, exaggerate, blame and mis-lead."

Branding the evidence on the tapes as "tainted", Mr Justice O'Hara said there was "clear bias" on the part of Mr McIntyre who was "out to get Mr Adams", and the information given orally by Mr Bell was "unreliable as a direct result of the way it was induced by Mr McIntyre."

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