Veteran republican Ivor Bell has been found not guilty of soliciting the murder of Disappeared victim Jean McConville, who was abducted and killed by the IRA.
The trial, which saw former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams called as a witness, got underway last week, but could not be reported on due to a restriction which was only lifted on Thursday.
A jury of eight men and four women were sworn in and tasked with determining whether or not Bell solicited the mother-of-10’s murder by encouraging others not before the court to carry it out.
The defendant, 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 diagnosed with vascular dementia.
During Thursday’s proceedings, Mr Justice O’Hara addressed the jury.
“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,” he said.
“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 was aged 38 when she was dragged from her Divis home by a masked gang in late 1972 and was murdered and “disappeared” by the IRA.
She was a loving, working class, widowed mother doing her best to raise ten children... We may not have got justice, but we have got some truth. But this cannot finish here. We need and demand a full public inquiry.
The trial of Ivor Bell marked the first time two extracts of the controversial Boston College tapes were aired in public.
The oral history project, directed by journalist Ed Maloney, included interviews with former senior IRA and UVF paramilitaries about their roles during the Troubles.
The tapes were to remain shrouded in secrecy until the death of the participants.
A man known only as “Z”, but whom the prosecution argued and the judge agreed was Ivor Bell, could be heard on the tape telling the interviewer - former republican prisoner Anthony McIntyre - that he was the IRA’s operations officer.
He further claimed on the recording that Gerry Adams was OC of the IRA’s Belfast brigade, which Mr Adams consistently denies, and that Pat McClure – now deceased - was the IRA’s information officer.
However, Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that the Boston tapes were inadmissible as evidence as Anthony McIntyre, who refused to co-operate with the court, had an agenda against Gerry Adams and the peace process - an issue Professor Kevin O’Neill from Boston College raised when he gave evidence,saying the project was deeply flawed and is now held up as a model of how not to do oral history.
Explaining his decision further, the judge told Belfast Crown Court that while Bell - thinking the tapes would not be published until after his death - may have felt liberated to tell the truth, the difficulty was that he may also have felt free to “lie, distort, exaggerate, blame and mislead”.
He also concluded that Anthony McIntyre and Ivor Bell had a clear bias and were out to get Gerry Adams. The public, Mr Justice O’Hara said, would form their own view.
On the Boston tapes, Ivor Bell alleged that he, Gerry Adams and Pat McClure met in a house in west Belfast in December 1972 to decide on the fate of Jean McConville, whom they accused of being an informer who was signalling to the nearby Army barracks with her blinds - an allegation which was later discredited by the Police Ombudsman.
Ivor Bell, who described Jean McConville “as the architect of her own downfall”, related how Gerry Adams had asked a priest in nearby St Peter’s to get her out of town, but he had refused.
Ivor Bell declared that being a woman should not save her.
“I didn’t have a problem shooting touts,” he said on tape.
“At the end of the day, she is an informer and, worse than that, an informer for money.”
He added that he did not agree with burying her because it defeated the entire purpose.
Asked time and time again who gave the order that she should be disappeared, Bell replied: “Gerry would have passed the information back to GHQ that she was a tout, that she was taking money and that she had to be executed.”
Anthony McIntyre persisted, inquiring: “Do you recall, at any point, Gerry and Pat saying she should be disappeared?”
“Yeah,” Ivor Bell replied. “They said they couldn’t take the heat from throwing her in the street.”
I have never hidden my association with the IRA and I have never sought to distance myself from the IRA. I have denied IRA membership. I also thought the IRA were totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folks.
On day five of the trial, Gerry Adams entered the witness box for the defence.
He had been arrested in 2014, following the seizure of the Boston College tapes, and questioned in Antrim police station about the murder of Jean McConville - before being released without charge.
In the witness box, Gerry Adams again rejected claims that he was a member of the IRA, insisting he had “no part to play in the abduction, killing or burial of Jean McConville”.
He further stressed that he did not attend any meeting in west Belfast to discuss the mother-of-ten.
During over an hour of questioning in the witness box, Gerry Adams branded the Boston Project suspect, claiming the interviewer Anthony McIntyre and Ivor Bell were opposed to his strategy which led to peace process, but stating that he had learned to live with the many accusations levelled against him, including that he is a traitor.
When asked by the prosecution what his attitude was to touts, he answered that he did not like the word “touts” but he accepted that “if people were agents and informers, for me as well as everybody else, they were liable to be shot”.
He added: “It is regrettable and not something I would advocate.”
The lawyer then enquired if he personally did not have a problem with shooting informers - to which Gerry Adams replied: “I would have a problem shooting anybody - I think that is a very leading question.
“I am not on trial here.”
Thirty years after Jean McConville was abducted and shot in the back of the head, her body was found by a member of the public in Shelling beach in Co Louth.
That finally ended her children’s search for their mother and allowed them to carry her coffin through the area where they had last seen her alive almost 50 years ago.