Northern Ireland news

Judge postpones decision on Ivor Bell 'fitness to plead' in Jean McConville case

Ivor Bell pictured at a previous court hearing. Picture By Hugh Russell

A decision in the case of veteran republican Ivor Bell and his "fitness to plead" on charges in relation to the IRA disappearance of mother-of-10 Jean McConville was postponed today.

A judge at Belfast Crown Court said he would not make any ruling on the application until a further application by the defence to "stay proceedings" is made and adjudicated upon.

Mr Justice Colton said because of this "live issue" on whether or not all proceedings should be stopped, he would delay giving a determination on the matter of his "fitness".

The application for a stay of proceedings, if successful, would end all proceedings against the west Belfast man - not only criminal, but whether a separate hearing could take place to determine if Mr Bell "committed the act" based on the facts presented to the court.

Even if such a hearing were held, the former republican would not be held criminally liable for any resulting finding, nor would he face any criminal penalty such as a jail sentence.

The defence maintain that the health of Mr Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in Andersonstown, is such that he is unfit to stand trial and that any trial would have further detrimental effect upon him.

Mr Bell, who has yet to be formally arraigned on the two charges he faces in connection with the murder and disappearance of Mrs McConville almost 45 years ago, was again excused from attending court today.

The charges arise out of the IRA abduction and murder of the mother-of-10 from her Divis flats home in west Belfast in December 1972.

The pensioner was originally charged with aiding and abetting her murder, and with being a member of the IRA, but they were subsequently amended by the Public Prosecution Service.

The charges he now faces firstly claim that "on a date unknown between the 31st day of October 1972 and the 1st day of January 1973 he encouraged persons not before the court to murder Jean McConville", while the second accuses him of having "endeavoured to persuade persons" to carry out the murder.

Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old widow, was seized from her home in front of her children after being wrongly accused of being a British army informant.

She was shot dead and then secretly buried, becoming one of the "Disappeared" victims of republicans until in 1999 the IRA finally admitted the murder when information was passed to gardaí in the Republic.

Mrs McConville's body was found near Templetown Beach in Co Louth in 2003.

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