Ivor Bell cleared of soliciting Jean McConville murder - Boston tapes interviewer 'out to get Gerry Adams', says judge
Veteran Republican Ivor Bell has been acquitted of any involvement in the IRA's abduction, murder and disappearance of mother-of-ten Jean McConville.
Mr Bell was found not guilty of having done two acts of soliciting to murder Mrs McConville in 1972 after a judge ruled the Crown's main evidence was "inadmissible."
The trial - which saw former MP Gerry Adams called as a witness - commenced last week but could not be reported on due to a restriction which was only lifted today.
A jury of eight men and four women were sworn in to preside over the trial and were told their role was to determine whether or not Mr Bell solicited the murder by encouraging others not before the court to murder her, and endeavouring to persuade others to murder her.
After hearing evidence from a number of witnesses, the jury was addressed by Mr Justice O'Hara, who said: "As a result of some legal rulings to legal arguments made over the last two days, there is now no evidence which the prosecution can put before you in order to support the case it was making against Mr Bell.
"My ruling now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged."
Mrs McConville (38) was dragged from her Divis home by a masked gang in late 1972 and was murdered and 'disappeared' by the IRA.
Mr Bell, an 82-year old former IRA man from Ramoan Gardens, in west Belfast, was excused from attending due to ill health. Before the trial began, he was examined by several doctors and was diagnosed as having vascular dementia.
In a hearing which spanned seven days, the jury was played extracts of audio tapes from the controversial Boston College's Belfast Project. The project was designed to become an oral historical account of the Troubles, and included interviews with former senior paramilitaries about their roles during the conflict.
The director of the project was journalist Ed Moloney, while the interviewer was former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, and it was the latter's role that formed part of the defence application to entirely exclude the Boston Tapes as evidence.
Extracts of two interviews, which were conducted with interviewee Z and who trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara ruled was Mr Bell, were played twice to the jury last week.
In the tapes, Mr Bell claimed that in late 1972 he and two men he named as Gerry Adams and the now-deceased Pat McClure held a meeting where Mrs McConville's fate was discussed.
Mr Bell claimed Mrs McConville was suspected of being an informer, and that he had no problem shooting touts. He also said that when he was told at that meeting that the plan was to bury her, he disagreed as it "defeated the purpose."
All the allegations made against Mr Adams were denied when he was called to give evidence earlier this week. From the witness box, he denied being a member of the IRA and of any involvement in the abduction, murder and burial of Mrs McConville.
In his ruling, Mr Justice O'Hara noted that Mr McIntyre - who refused to co-operate with the court proceedings - "had an agenda" against Gerry Adams, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. He also felt that after listening to the interview with Mr Bell, the tapes "clearly show Mr McIntyre leading Mr Bell to speak against Gerry Adams."
Mr Justice O'Hara also raised the issue of a guarantee the interviewees - including Ivor Bell - were given at the time, namely their tapes would not be released until after their deaths.
The Judge said this guarantee may have led to a situation where while Mr Bell felt "liberated to tell the truth ... the difficulty is he may also gave felt free to lie, distortion, exaggerate, blame and mis-lead."
Branding the evidence on the tapes as "tainted", Mr Justice O'Hara said there was "clear bias" on the part of Mr McIntyre who was "out to get Mr Adams", and the information given orally by Mr Bell was "unreliable as a direct result of the way it was induced by Mr McIntyre."
The Judge also noted that a witness who was involved in the early stages of the Belfast Project, Professor Kevin O'Neill, branded the project as "deeply flawed because of the lack of proper consent on the part of the interviewees."
Prof O'Neill, who gave evidence on Monday via video link from Boston, said he was "frozen out" when he raised concerns about bias within the Project. He also branded it as "highly controversial ... it's now held up as a model of how not to do an oral history."
The Judge therefore ruled all the evidence from the Boston Tapes was inadmissible on Wednesday morning. He granted an overnight adjournment to allow the Crown time to consider its options, and this morning Crown QC Ciaran Murphy confirmed there would be no further evidence presented against Mr Bell.
Mr Justice O'Hara addressed the jury and after directing them to return 'not guilty' verdicts, he thanks them for their time and released them from jury service.