Police who arrested top republican Bobby Storey over the Jean McConville murder were forced to let him go after realising he had been granted immunity from prosecution.
The former IRA prison leader was scooped on Thursday for questioning about the 1972 murder and disappearance of the widowed mother of 10 from her west Belfast home.
Storey, 58, was arrested on the basis of recordings from the Boston College project that named him as collecting information on the whereabouts of the Disappeared.
But what police did not initially realise is that the ex-Provo gunman had immunity to do this work on behalf of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR).
When this was pointed out to them they had not other option but to set Storey free.
A republican source said: “Bobby had nothing to do with the disappearance of Jean McConville, he didn’t even live in west Belfast at the time. He was lifted on the back of the Boston College tapes.
“Some of those interviewed named him as having visited them on behalf of the IRA asking for details about where people, including Jean McConville, were secretly buried.”
Like those who voluntarily gave information to the ICLVR, Bobby Storey was granted immunity from prosecution for his IRA fact-finding role.
According to our sources that is why he was released after a couple of hours of questioning. “As soon as this was confirmed, the PSNI had no option but to let Bobby go,” added an insider.
“He was only lifted for a few hours, unlike others arrested for the McConville case who were held for at least a day.”
After being released on Thursday evening, Storey showed up at a Sinn Fein meeting in north Belfast in the company of former IRA Maze Prison boss Padraic Wilson.
He refused to talk to the media, maintaining the silence he had adopted throughout his interviews in Antrim PSNI station.
The 6ft 4in republican is the current northern chair of Sinn Fein and is a key supporter of Gerry Adams. In the late 1990s after the IRA admitted murdering and disappearing victims like Jean McConville, Storey was tasked by the Provos with gathering details on where they might be buried.
It was in return for his fact finding work that he was granted immunity from prosecution by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR).
Among those Storey spoke to about Jean McConville was Dolours Price, who died in 2013, and who admitted that she drove the mum of 10 to her death in 1972.
Storey – who was arrested in connection with the 2002 Castlereagh police station break-in and the 2005 Northern Bank Robbery – has been previously named as the IRA’s Director of Intelligence.