Forensic evidence found during the examination of the body of IRA “Disappeared” victim Jean McConville could still be used to convict her murderers, it emerged today.
Louth County Coroner Ronan Maguire ruled the recovery of Mrs McConville’s body was not covered by an agreement between the authorities and republicans, before adjourning her inquest for six weeks.
The IRA agreed to help locate the bodies of the nine Disappeared in 1999 on the understanding that the only forensic tests carried out on any bodies found would be for identification purposes.
Mrs McConville’s body was not recovered following two official searches and was only found accidentally by a member of the public last August.
Mr Maguire said a full range of forensic tests had been carried out on her remains and any results could be used in criminal proceedings.
“I deemed that the case of Jean McConville did not come under the Criminal Justice Location of Victims’ Remains Act 1999,” he said.
“If Mrs McConville’s body had been recovered during the two searches launched as a result of information received through the process, the only examination allowed would be in relation to identification.
“However, because her remains were found following an accidental search, a full forensic examination can be carried out and any evidence could be used in court.
“That, in essence, means that the criminal case remains open.”
The inquest was adjourned for six weeks today at the request of Mrs McConville’s family.
A solicitor told a brief hearing at Dundalk Courthouse that the family wanted more time to allow independent experts to examine police files and to get more information from gardaí.
Mr Maguire granted the adjournment until April 5, when he promised “as full and proper an inquiry as possible” would take place.
“I anticipate it will be able to proceed to its conclusion on that date,” he added.
Mrs McConville’s son Michael said the family had waited for 31 years for their mother’s remains, so another six weeks would not harm them.
“We want to get to the truth,” he said.
“It is like a piece of the jigsaw, it all comes together. It helps for us to get on with our lives, to know as much information as possible.”
Mrs McConville’s body was discovered in a shallow grave on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth last August, 31 years after she was abducted by an IRA gang.
The mother-of-10 was taken from her home in Divis Flats, west Belfast, after she went to the aid of a critically wounded British soldier.
The IRA admitted responsibility for her murder, claiming she had been an informer – an allegation her family vigorously denied.
A post-mortem examination confirmed Mrs McConville, who was 37-years-old at the time of her death, died from a gunshot wound to the head.
She was one of the nine Disappeared victims who were murdered by the IRA and secretly buried during the 1970s.
The IRA offered to help locate the bodies in 1999 but Mrs McConville’s remains were not found, despite two extensive excavations, the first lasting 50 days, at Templetown Beach in Carlingford, Co Louth.
Garda officers did recover the body of Eamon Molloy in a coffin in a graveyard in Co Louth as well as the remains of John McClory and Brian McKinney, whose remains were found after weeks of digging in a bog in Co Monaghan.
The other bodies were not located.
The IRA apologised for the grief caused to the families of the Disappeared last October, saying it was sorry their suffering had continued for so long.
Mrs McConville’s family said the apology meant nothing to them.
Bishop Patrick Walsh told mourners at Mrs McConville’s funeral in November that her murder had “touched the depths of depravity“.
After the funeral the cortege travelled along the Falls Road past Sinn Féin’s headquarters where it stopped near the spot where the IRA killers led her to her death.
A minute’s silence was held outside Divis Tower, the last remaining block of the flats complex where she lived.
Her remains were then laid to rest in Lisburn, Co Antrim, alongside her husband Arthur, who had died a few months before her murder.