Anonymous voices that can not be identified may render the Boston College tapes useless in the search to find the IRA killers who murdered Belfast mother Jean McConville.
Historian and author Chris Bray claims in the Irish Times that some of the voices on the tapes are of little legal value. An attorney has described the tapes as “meaningless” without the identity of thise speaking.
These recordings, made by journalist Ed Moloney, were claimed by Northern Ireland police after a legal battle in the US Supreme Court.
Bray says the audiotapes from the Boston College archive are supposed to answer questions about McConville’s 1972 murder at the hands of the IRA who accused her of being a British Army informant.
But BC says the voices of the former militants on the tapes are difficult to identify.
The report says the police will receive the subpoenaed material but some of the voices are anonymous.
American lawyer Eamonn Dornan, who was involved in the legal battle over the tapes, said: “It certainly greatly diminishes the value of the evidence.
“If they can’t be identified, they’re meaningless, or almost meaningless.”
The report says the very nature of the tapes, known as the Belfast Project, have contributed to the current issue.
Bray says that in the archives, interview materials were marked only by a coded letter and court documents have used that coding to discuss which of the tapes Boston College is to provide to the Government.
But Boston College does not have a key to connect those coded identities to the real identities of the interviewees.
Boston lawyer Jeffrey Swope, who represented the university in the proceedings, has acknowledged that the school’s archivists have never had that identification key.
The Irish Times also says that no contracts exists for some of the key participants in the project although it does have contracts that identify the subjects of four other sets of subpoenaed interviews.
The American university says writer and filmmaker Moloney was obligated to provide the paperwork under the terms of his contract as the research director of the Belfast Project, which was concluded in 2006.
Swope said: “Under the agreement between Boston College and Mr Moloney, Mr Moloney promised to provide a ‘key’ to the code assigned to each interviewee that gave the interviewee’s name. Mr Moloney failed to do.
“Mr Moloney did provide Boston College the donation agreements for some, but not all, of the interviewees.”
Moloney replied that the project ended in 2006, the subpoenas were served in 2011 and only now has Boston College realised that its archivists do not know what is in, or has gone missing from, the college’s own archive.
He said: “Not once in all these years did the college ask me for the key to these interviews and that is because they knew that when I moved to New York at the outset of the project, for family reasons, I could not be involved in a process which stipulated that, for security reasons, contracts could only be taken by hand from Ireland to Boston.
“This is an attempt to divert attention from the college’s own incompetence, one of many during this sad saga.”
The report adds that Boston College is trying to find out whose tapes it has in its archives.
The college has asked Moloney to provide them with the missing identification key.
Swope added: “Mr Moloney has refused to do so.”