A former IRA leader has been charged in connection with the murder of mother of 10 Jean McConville based on confessions he made during the Boston College tapes recording sessions.
The Boston College project begun in 2001 and was aimed at securing the recollections of key figures in The Troubles to the events of The Troubles.
Critics claim that witnesses were falsely told their testimonies would only be released after their deaths. Sinn Fein have claimed that the tapes were biased against their members and overseen by key researchers who were out to get Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
A Belfast court heard on Saturday that the police case against 77-year-old Ivor Bell is based on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers at the US college.
The prosecution claimed the transcript actually indicated Bell had ‘played a critical role in the aiding, abetting, counsel and procurement of the murder of Jean McConville’.
McConville was abducted and killed in 1972 by the IRA amid allegations she was a police informer a charge her family has always denied.
Bell was refused bail and remanded in custody by a district judge in Belfast accused of aiding and abetting in the murder as well as membership of the IRA.
His lawyer alleged that the prosecution case was that an interviewee on one of the Boston tapes, referred to only as ‘Z ’, was his client.
Boston College interviewed a number of former paramilitaries about the Troubles on the understanding transcripts would not be published until after their deaths.
The project was headed by journalist Ed Moloney a fierce critic of Gerry Adams and researcher Anthony McIntyre who opposed the Sinn Fein peace strategy. Moloney also published a book “Voices from the Grave” which contained allegations by two of those interviewed who had died against living figures in SInn Fein.
The undertaking that no tapes would be released until the participants died was rendered ineffective when a US court last year ordered that the tapes be handed over to PSNI detectives.
Boston College and the two principals, Moloney and McIntyre have been sharply critical of each other since the tapes were seized by British authorities.
The interviews included claims about the 1972 murder of McConville, one of the so called Disappeared whose body was found on a County Louth beach years later.
She was abducted by the IRA at her home at Belfast, shot dead and then secretly buried.
Lawyer Peter Corrigan told district judge Amanda Henderson: “During those interviews Z explicitly states that he was not involved with the murder of Jean McConville.”
The report adds that Corrigan also questioned the evidential value of the interviews, pointing out that they had not been conducted by trained police officers.
He added:“The defence submits that the evidence does not amount to a row of beans in relation to the murder of Jean McConville.”
Bell sat impassively in the dock wearing a grey jumper as his lawyer made the claims.
Some of Mrs McConville’s children watched on from the public gallery.
A PSNI detective inspector told the court that he can connect the accused with the charges but rejected Corrigan’s interpretation of the Boston College interview.Police opposed bail on the grounds that the defendant would likely flee the jurisdiction as he had previously used an alias to travel to Spain and could use contacts within the IRA to travel beyond Northern Ireland.
Corrigan refuted that claim.
He said: “Are the prosecution seriously suggesting that a man in this serious ill health, who can’t walk up steps, is going to abscond for an offense where he has every incentive to attend court?”
Bell was remanded in custody to appear before court again next month.
After the hearing, Mrs McConville’s son Michael said the family’s thoughts were with their mother.
He said: “The pain of losing her has not diminished over the decades since she was taken from us murdered and secretly buried.
“She is in our hearts and our thoughts always. Whatever the future holds nothing will ever change that.”