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McConville case lawyers told to hand accused's medical notes to prosecution

A judge has given lawyers for a veteran republican charged in connection with the murder of Jean McConville a week to hand over medical notes related to a dementia diagnosis.

Ivor Bell, 80, faces two counts of soliciting the IRA abduction and killing of the mother-of-10 in 1972.

The Belfast pensioner's legal team are arguing that his ill health renders him unable to fully participate in his trial and are seeking a ruling declaring him unfit to plead.

Prosecution lawyers have commissioned a doctor with expertise in dealing with older patients to make his own assessment of Bell's condition.

Counsel Ciaran Murphy QC told Belfast Crown Court that in order to conduct the examination the medic needed access to the defendant's most recent medical notes.

He described the documents as "crucial".

"There is no point in him (the expert) being prepared for an examination if he doesn't have up-to-date blood tests and brain scans and that type of thing," he said.

"They are a crucial piece of material".

Defence lawyer Dessie Hutton said he would work to obtain copies from Bell's own doctors.

"I don't think it will be an issue," he said, noting that the prosecution had Bell's medical records up until September 2016.

Judge Seamus Treacy said it was important the matter was dealt with "expeditiously".

He told Mr Hutton to inform health service officials that the documents should be ready for distribution to the prosecution within a week.

"There's nothing to stop you requesting them today," he said.

The prosecution-hired doctor will examine Bell on May 2, with the next pre-trial court hearing listed for May 12.

Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, has denied the charges.

Mrs McConville, a 37-year-old mother, was dragged from her home in Belfast's Divis flats complex by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women, 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 Irish 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.

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.

But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when Police Service of Northern Ireland (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.

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