Veteran republican to stand trial over McConville murder

Ivor Bell, 79, leaves Belfast Magistrates' Court. Pic: Niall Carson/PA

Veteran republican Ivor Bell will stand trial for involvement in the 1972 murder of mother of 10 Jean McConville, a judge in Northern Ireland has ruled.

Bell, 79, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, is charged with aiding and abetting the kidnap, killing and secret burial of the widow.

The pensioner, who is also charged with IRA membership, appeared at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, where he was told the high-profile case would proceed to the Crown Court.

District judge Amanda Henderson said: “There is a case to answer at this stage.”

Bell denies all the charges against him.

Judge Henderson’s decision followed a two-day preliminary inquiry at the Laganside court complex last week.

The judge said that she was “satisfied” the strength of the evidence was sufficient to meet the threshold to return the accused for trial.

Throughout the brief hearing, white-haired, moustachioed Bell stood in the dock beside a prison guard, wearing a blue coat, grey and white striped shirt and grey cardigan.

On the advice of his solicitor he replied “no” when asked if he had any response or intended to call witnesses.

Mrs McConville, 37, was dragged from her home in Belfast’s Divis flats complex by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women in late 1972.

She was accused of passing information to the British Army — an allegation later discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman. The widow was shot in the back of the head and secretly buried 80km from her home, becoming one of the Disappeared victims of the sectarian conflict.

It was not until 1999 that the IRA admitted the murder when information was passed to gardaí.

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. Part of the case against Bell is based on the content of tapes police secured from an oral history archive collated by Boston College in the United States.

Academics interviewed a series of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries for their Belfast Project on the understanding that the accounts of the Troubles would remain unpublished until their deaths.

Howevr, that undertaking was rendered meaningless when PSNI detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s death won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.

It is alleged that one of the interviews was given by Bell — a claim the defendant denies — and he was first charged in March 2014. He was released on continuing bail. A trial date has yet to be confirmed.


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