In the latest twist in the battle over taped interviews made with former paramilitaries as part of a history project by a US university, doubt has now arisen as to how useful they may be to the PSNI.
It was reported at the weekend that Boston College, which holds the tapes, had lost the coded keys identifying individual participants among the dozens of former IRA and UVF members interviewed for its oral history Belfast Project.
The interviews include those of deceased former IRA member Dolours Price who alleged Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was involved in the IRA's 1972 slaying of mother-of-10 Jean McConville, whom the IRA regarded as a spy.
Three weeks after it was widely reported in many media outlets that a 26-month legal battle over the Price interviews ended with PSNI officers flying to Boston to take possession of them, it's been reported that Boston College isn't in possession of the coded keys to the interviews. It is not believed that the revelations relate to the Price interviews.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, journalist Ed Moloney – the former director of Boston College's Belfast Project – was adamant that the college was periodically given the coded keys when the material was presented to its archivists by the interviewers from 2001 until 2006.
He said that, as the project progressed, he moved to New York, and, although he remained involved, he wasn't party to the handing over of interviewee contracts or identification keys. He also criticised Boston College for not doing a proper inventory of the material before now.
"The project started in 2001 and we're now in the year 2013, and it is only now that Boston College has suddenly realised 'Oh! We don't have the contracts'."
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn labelled Moloney's allegations "reprehensible". Mr Dunn insisted that Mr Moloney was duty-bound to make sure that the college got the contracts and identifying keys. He said: "Ed Moloney, as project director, had a contractual obligation to provide the materials and we're going to hold him accountable to provide those materials."
The US Department of Justice will announce tomorrow whether or not it will appeal a May 31 federal appeals court decision in favour of Boston College.
That decision restricted the scope of an earlier ruling that 74 sessions with seven former IRA members be turned over the US Justice Department, which is acting on behalf of the PSNI. The appeals court has ordered Boston College to surrender only 11 sessions.
Boston College's Belfast Project saw two dozen former IRA and UVF members interviewed from 2001 to 2006.
Participants were assured that their interviews wouldn't be published while they were alive.
Now it has now emerged that coded keys, identifying who's who among the interviewees, cannot be found.