Jean McConville case lawyers told to hand over Ivor Bell’s medical notes

Veteran republican has dementia and is unfit to plead, his legal team says

A judge has given lawyers for Ivor Bell, the veteran republican charged in connection with the murder of Jean McConville, a week to hand over medical notes related to a dementia diagnosis.

The 80-year-old faces two counts of soliciting the IRA abduction and killing of the 37-year-old mother of 10 in 1972. Mrs McConville was dragged from her home, in the Divis flats complex in Belfast, by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women. She was accused of passing information to the British army, an allegation later discredited by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman. She was shot in the back of the head and secretly buried 80km from her home, becoming one of the “Disappeared” victims of the Troubles.

Bell’s legal team are arguing that his ill health renders him unable to fully participate in his trial and are seeking a ruling declaring him unfit to plead.

Prosecution lawyers have commissioned a doctor with expertise in dealing with older patients to make his own assessment of Bell’s condition.


Ciaran Murphy QC told Belfast Crown Court that in order to conduct the examination the medic needed access to the defendant’s most recent medical notes. “There is no point in [the expert] being prepared for an examination if he doesn’t have up-to-date blood tests and brain scans and that type of thing,” Mr Murphy said. “They are a crucial piece of material”.

Dessie Hutton, a defence lawyer, said he would work to obtain copies from Bell’s own doctors. “I don’t think it will be an issue,” he said, noting that the prosecution had Bell’s medical records up until September 2016.

Judge Seamus Treacy said it was important the matter be dealt with quickly. He told Mr Hutton to let health-service officials know that the documents should be ready within a week. “There’s nothing to stop you requesting them today,” he said.

The prosecution-hired doctor will examine Bell on May 2nd, and the next pretrial hearing is listed for May 12th.

It was not until 1999 that the IRA admitted Mrs McConville’s murder, when information was passed to police in the Republic. Her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach, in Co Louth, by a member of the public in August 2003. Nobody has been convicted of her murder.

Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in west Belfast, has denied the charges. The case against him is based on the content of tapes police secured from the oral-history archive collated by Boston College, in the United States.

Academics interviewed a series of former republican and loyalist paramilitaries for their Belfast Project on the understanding that the accounts of the Troubles would remain unpublished until their deaths.

But that undertaking was rendered meaningless when Police Service of Northern Ireland detectives investigating Mrs McConville’s death won a court battle in the US to secure the recordings.

It is alleged that one of the interviews was given by Bell, a claim the defendant denies.

Press Association