'Disappeared' victim's son, campaigner Billy McConville, dies aged 50

A "courageous" victims campaigner orphaned and allegedly abused in the North following the murder of his mother Jean McConville has died.

Billy McConville, 50, had been living at a hospice while bravely coping with cancer, parish priest Father Patrick McCafferty said.

The Belfast father-of-four described suffering sexual and physical harm in residential care as a child without a mother at Rubane House in Co Down, run by brothers from the De La Salle religious order.

Mrs McConville was abducted, shot and secretly buried by the IRA at the height of the conflict when her son was aged just six.

It was one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles and claims that she was an informer for the British were later dismissed.

Fr McCafferty said: "He was a very courageous man and still fighting for justice up to the very end, especially for people like himself who suffered in those institutions.

"He was a very good man and has suffered with great dignity and with great courage."

Mr McConville was one of 10 children whose mother was kidnapped from the family home in December 1972. He was put into care shortly afterwards.

He appeared before a Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) public inquiry in 2014 to detail his experience and in recent days called on politicians to secure justice and compensation for abuse survivors, dragging himself from his hospital bed to support a Belfast rally.

The inquiry has recommended compensation worth up to £100,000 for the worst affected.

Survivors' campaigner Margaret McGuckin said decision-makers needed to act and said she was awaiting Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster's signature on a joint letter from the parties urging action from the British Government.

She said: "There will be nobody left, is that what they want?"

Ms McGuckin added that many who began the campaign for justice were no longer there, saying: "We have had a shorter lifespan because of what happened in there, so all of these people are in their late 50s early 60s."

She said Mr McConville had shown great determination when giving evidence of his ordeal and had turned up for a rally to help others in his dying days.

"He always had a kindness, a care for everyone else around him," she added.

His funeral will take place in west Belfast on Wednesday.

Mrs McConville was dragged from her home in Belfast's Divis flats complex by a gang of up to 12 men and women in 1972, accused of passing information to the British Army - an allegation later discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.

She was shot in the back of the head and secretly buried 50 miles from her home, becoming one of the "Disappeared" victims of the Troubles.

It was not until 1999 that the IRA admitted the murder when information was passed to police in the Republic.

Her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth by a member of the public in August 2003.

Nobody has been convicted of her murder.

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