Future prosecutions based on taped interviews with Troubles-era paramilitaries could be in jeopardy after a judge ruled that recordings of Ivor Bell used in his trial for soliciting the 1972 murder of Jean McConville were inadmissible.
Mr Justice John O'Hara was highly critical of the Belfast Project oral history archive after finding that republican and loyalist paramilitaries who provided accounts of their involvement in the conflict did so under the "false guarantee" of confidentiality to protect them from prosecution.
The judge yesterday directed a jury at Laganside Crown Court in Belfast to find Mr Bell (82) not guilty of soliciting Gerry Adams and the late Pat McClure to murder Ms McConville, a mother of 10.
Mr Bell did not provide evidence during the case as he is suffering from vascular dementia, so a trial of the facts was held. This is a court process that can be held when an accused is judged unfit to stand trial due to serious ill-health. The trial sought to establish if Mr Bell committed the alleged acts, and no reporting of the proceedings was allowed until it concluded.
The judge said the lead researcher on the project, Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the inadmissible interviews with Mr Bell, was guilty of bias and had his “own agenda against Mr Adams, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement”.
Mr McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, worked on the Belfast Project under the directorship of writer Ed Moloney, while the overall project was run from Boston College.
Mr Moloney said he "refutes absolutely" any bias on the part of the project and that it would in time be regarded as "a very important body of work".
“I’m sorry, but these people have not read the entire archive,” he said. “The judges haven’t – they’ve read one or two interviews from a vast hoard of what Ivor Bell did and made these sweeping generalisations. It’s absurd, it’s nonsense, they can’t do that.”
Mr Moloney said it “goes without saying” that he regrets that the PSNI was able to obtain the interview with Mr Bell.