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Boston interviewees 'misled that the tapes would remain secret'

By Alan Erwin

Published 29/06/2016

Murdered: Jean McConville
Murdered: Jean McConville

Former paramilitaries were misled into thinking they could reveal their activities to an American university study with complete impunity, a court has heard.

But a librarian from Boston College insisted any impression that interview tapes would remain confidential during their lifetime was down to an oversight in a contract they signed.

Dr Robert O'Neill was giving evidence at a preliminary inquiry to decide if veteran Belfast republican Ivor Bell is to stand trial over the killing of Disappeared victim Jean McConville.

Bell (79), from Ramoan Gardens in the city, denies charges of soliciting to murder connected to an allegation that he encouraged or persuaded others to kill the mother-of-10.

Mrs McConville was seized by the IRA from her Divis Flats home in 1972 after being wrongly accused of being an informer.

Following her abduction she was shot dead and then secretly buried. Her body was discovered on a Co Louth beach in 2003.

The case against Bell centres on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers involved in the Boston College history project with ex-paramilitaries about their roles in the Troubles.

Although it was believed transcripts were not to be published until after the deaths of those who took part, a US court ordered the tapes should be handed over to PSNI detectives.

It is alleged that Bell was one of the project interviewees, given the title Z, who spoke about the circumstances surrounding the decision to abduct her.

His legal team claim the case against him should be dismissed.

During a hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court to examine the strength of the evidence, Dr O'Neill, Burns Librarian at the College, appeared by video-link.

He confirmed a contract between the College and the project director guaranteed confidentiality only to the extent American law allowed.

But the court heard separate "donor agreements" with interviewees gave them the impression nothing would be disclosed without their consent prior to their deaths.

Cross-examining the librarian, Barry Macdonald QC, for Bell, asked: "Do you now see how they were all misled, those people who were interviewed?" Dr O'Neill replied: "Yes."

He also accepted counsel's suggestion they received guarantees that should never have been given, leaving them feeling "free to make all sorts of claims in respect to themselves and other with impunity".

The librarian agreed it was accurate to say interviewees believed there was no prospect of facing prosecution or having their accounts tested.

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