Jean McConville’s murder, the Boston tapes, Gerry Adams and the Ivor Bell trial

Long read: Tapes which implicated Gerry Adams deemed inadmissible in Belfast trial

During the eight-day trial of Ivor Bell for his alleged involvement in the murder of Jean McConville, five of her 10 children sat listening intently in the public gallery of Laganside Crown Court in central Belfast hoping for some form of truth and justice.

Archie was 16 when Jean McConville was abducted late in 1972, held for a while and brought ultimately in the dark of night to Shellinghill Beach in Co Louth, her difficult life ended with a single shot to the back of the head.

Michael was 11, Thomas eight, Susan seven and Jim six. Three of the 10 children then left orphaned are dead – Annie, Billy and Agnes. Two more, Helen and Robert, were not in court. They didn’t get justice and perhaps, even probably, never will, but they got a disputed truth.

Through the Boston tapes and through the testimony of Gerry Adams they got an insight, as no one got before, into the terrible story behind the murder of their 38-year-old mother – a murder that has left echoes like few others of the Troubles.


This trial was important because the murder of McConville cut deep into the psyche of the people of Northern Ireland, and pierced sharply too into all of the people of Ireland. Considering that it prompted New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe to write an international bestseller, Say Nothing, about her killing, it went much further – it demonstrated that here was a tragedy with a universal and timeless reach.

The long narrative of the trial that follows brought us to another dark night on the Falls Road when Bell alleged that three men – Bell, Gerry Adams and the late Pat McClure – gathered to decide on the fate of Jean McConville.

Trial’s end

Ivor Bell's trial effectively collapsed on Wednesday when in the absence of the jury Mr Justice John O'Hara ruled that the Boston tapes that implicated Bell, Adams and McClure in the murder of Jean McConville were inadmissible.

The jury was brought back on Thursday to learn that they would not be required to decide whether Bell, an alleged former senior IRA leader, solicited former Sinn Féin president Adams and McClure to murder the 38-year-old.

Whatever the jury would decide, and however the judge would direct, Bell would not face any punishment because of his illness

Instead Mr Justice O’Hara told the jury “there was no evidence that the prosecution can put before you that supports the case” against Bell.  “My role now is to direct you to return a verdict of not guilty because you simply cannot find him to have done the acts alleged,” said the judge. The jury formally did as directed.

The trial was unusual in that West Belfast man Bell, now 82, did not appear in court as the prosecution and defence accepted that he was unfit to stand due to suffering from vascular dementia. Whatever the jury would decide, and however the judge would direct, Bell would not face any punishment because of his illness.

The Boston tapes were therefore central to the case. The tapes were part of the Belfast Project, the oral history of the Troubles directed by writer and journalist Ed Moloney, and whose lead researcher was former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, who carried out the interviews with Bell.

Under the terms of the project, which was run from Boston College, republican and loyalist interviewees could give interviews about their involvement in the conflict which would not be released until their deaths. They were given guarantees of such confidentiality but after the PSNI sought to get these tapes it was learned that this guarantee of confidentiality only applied in "so far as American law allows". Ultimately after a legal battle the US courts released the tapes to the PSNI.

Trial of the facts

Normally such criminal cases as Bell’s are held in non-jury Diplock courts but because this was a “trial of the facts” the case was held before a jury of eight men and four women. Under such a trial the jury could find that he did commit the acts alleged against him: that on an unknown day between October 31st, 1972, and January 1st, 1973, he “encouraged” Adams and McClure to murder McConville and that between the same dates he “endeavoured to persuade” them to murder her.

Or they could find him “not guilty”, which was the final verdict.

Had the judge not issued his direction, the jury would have had to decide whether Bell – over 33 minutes on two tapes in saying he, Adams and McClure were involved in the murder – was telling the truth, or whether Adams – over one hour and 33 minutes in denying the allegations against him – was telling the truth.

He said he personally did not have a problem with killing McConville but he disagreed with burying her

On the tapes, Bell was described as “Z”– the judge ruled “Z” was indeed Bell.

Bell alleged how at a meeting on the Falls Road one night in late 1972 the fate of Jean McConville was sealed. He said he personally did not have a problem with killing McConville but he disagreed with burying her. Asked what was Adams’s view on burying her, Bell replied: “Just that she was a tout. She should be shot.”

He said that Adams and McClure held the view that because she had 10 children “they couldn’t take the heat from throwing her on the street.”

Adams in his evidence said he was at no such meeting. “I categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville or indeed any others,” he said.

‘Make up own view’

In the end, Mr Justice O’Hara took it out of the hands of the jury when he ruled that the two tapes featuring Bell were inadmissible.

The judge was critical of the Belfast Project. He said that McIntyre had an agenda and was not a “neutral interviewer” in respect of Adams, the peace process and the Belfast Agreement.

The issue of supposed confidentiality gave Bell the freedom to tell the truth but also to lie. He added that “while Mr Bell may have felt he was free to tell his version of the truth . . . the difficulty is he also may have felt free to lie, distort, exaggerate, blame and mislead”.

He said McIntyre and Bell had a “clear bias and were out to get Gerry Adams”. He said the tapes would become public at the end of the trial and then “people can make up their own view”.

Trial opens

The trial opened last Monday week but was slow to kick into proper gear. That was because the first jury that was formed – which is time consuming in itself – had to be dismissed the following day. This was because one of the jurors, as he or she was leaving the court on the Monday, heard someone say: “Come to the right verdict”.

The jury had to be dismissed for fear of “contamination” of the trial, said Mr Justice O’Hara. That incident is now being investigated by the PSNI. A second jury was formed on the Tuesday.

The tapes, the mainstay of the prosecution case, were played on the Wednesday afternoon in the first week of the trial, the jury first hearing the voice of interviewer Anthony McIntyre saying to Bell that it was “deviousness” by the IRA leadership to suggest that he (Bell) was “behind the killing and disappearance” of McConville, and that Bell had “nothing to do” with the murder.

Bell interrupts to say: “Oh, I had, I was on the [Belfast] brigade.”

McIntyre then goes on to say that in “later years” he was blamed for the killing “as a means to give cover to another person – Gerry Adams”. The interviewer also says that in those subsequent years Bell had been ordered not to talk to the press and not to start a rival organisation to the IRA.

And then when asking for Bell’s “overall view”, McIntyre described the killing of Jean McConville as a “war crime”.

Bell said he had no intention of forming another organisation and he never spoke to the press. “When I was told by Adams not to talk to the press I told Adams to ‘piss off, the only ones that talks to the press is yourself and people like you’.”

He said there was “something very, very wrong with the leadership” at the time and he was “disgusted by the whole scenario”. He added that it was only after the death of McClure that he learned “they were blaming me for the whole situation”.

Bell said: “But for all Pat’s affiliations with Gerry, Pat didn’t like Gerry . . . because he always said Gerry was too wedded to being nice and you can’t be a nice revolutionary. The two don’t go together.”

McIntyre said it had been “imperative” for Adams “to spread the story within the IRA” that “somebody other than him” was responsible for the murder of McConville. This view also was “stupidly” being put to people “who were involved in the A to Z” of the killing, he added.

“Well it wasn’t that I had no say in it,” said Bell. “The fact is I was on the brigade staff and there is collective responsibility and you can’t walk away from that, full stop.”

Bell then refers to a man named by McIntyre as senior republican Bobby Storey coming to him to ask about the murder of McConville. During this period of questioning Bell twice refers to McConville as McLarnon. [The date isn't given on the tape but it appears to be around 1999, when the IRA admitted killing and "disappearing" nine people including Jean McConville.]

Bell said, “Why don’t you ask Gerry,” but the man identified as Storey responded Adams “knows nothing about it”.

“And I just simply said ‘he’s a liar’,” said Bell. “And I’ll tell him to his face he is a liar”.

Bell said the man identified as Mr Storey "near fell off his chair" when he responded in that fashion.

There is further reference to this episode when the second tape was played with Bell noting that the man purported to be Storey did not take him up on his “offer” to go to Adams and call him a liar to his face.

‘What transpired’

Bell in the first tape said he told the man “exactly what transpired”. He then went on to speak about a meeting, around 10 pm, on a Saturday night on the Falls Road in late 1972 attended by him, Adams, McClure and a “girl” who stayed in the background and was not involved in the discussions.

He said “first and foremost” McClure said McConville “was a tout”. He trusted McClure because he was very meticulous “in everything he done”.

Bell added: “So I said, ‘Well Pat, she’s a tout’. I said ‘The fact she’s a woman shouldn’t save her’.

“Now I wasn’t told she had 10 kids and no husband. Had I been told that I can’t say for sure I would have said, ‘No, don’t shoot her’. But I may have had second thoughts and say, ‘Hold on what are we doing?’.”

Bell then corrected himself to say he actually did know she was a widow because Adams said he had "impressed on the priest the husband was dead"

He then said that Adams said a priest in St Peter’s Cathedral off the Falls Road had been asked to “get her out of the town” but the priest refused.

McIntyre interrupted: “The priest in St Peter’s could have saved the life of Jean McConville?”

Bell: “Yeah, I can’t remember his name.”

Bell then corrected himself to say he actually did know she was a widow because Adams said he had “impressed on the priest the husband was dead”.

“Well at the end of the day she is an informer. Worse that that she is an informer for money,” said Bell. “Whatever is decided I will back that up . . . I don’t have a problem with shooting touts.”

“But then they said, ‘We are going to bury her’. And I said, ‘No, I don’t agree with that’. And I didn’t agree with that. I said ‘If that happens it is done without my agreement’. I said, ‘It defeats the entire purpose’. And the meeting broke up.”

Asked by McIntyre who was the “main pusher” for burying McConville, Bell said: “I could not say it was Adams. I could not say it was Pat. I think it was coming from the local unit.”

McIntyre: “To bury her or to kill her?

Bell: “To kill her and bury her.”

Bell was then asked what was McClure’s attitude to burying her. He felt he “wasn’t that enamoured” of taking such action because in relation to another of the Disappeared, Séamus Wright, McClure had said in Bell’s presence: “If Wright is shot he should be thrown on the street with a total explanation of why he was shot.”

And what was Adams’s attitude to burying her: “Just that she was a tout. She should be shot,” he replied.

And he added: “I wouldn’t say he would have liked it that much. But he didn’t say very much except that the priest had refused to get her out of town.”

Asked by McIntyre what was the argument for burying people, Bell replied: “If Gerry knew she had 10 kids probably that was a good enough argument, you know. But to me that was an argument not to shoot her, right. And that’s all I can say, really, because I can’t get inside Gerry’s head.

“I know all that business was handled between Gerry and Pat. He didn’t have to come to me.”

And what was Adams's attitude to burying her: "Just that she was a tout. She should be shot," he replied

He added: "Having said that I had no problem with shooting any tout, no problem whatsoever, because we had no prisons. And one good tout is better than a regiment of soldiers, said Michael Collins. So that would have been my thing."

McIntyre asked was it possible that those journalists and authors who said Adams was responsible for her killing and disappearance were wrong. Bell replied: “Gerry would have passed the information back to GHQ, that, one, she was a tout, two, she was taking money, and, three, that she had to be executed.

“Now whether he knew she had 10 kids or not I don’t know. For me to say that he knew would be wrong because I simply don’t know . . . I don’t know that Gerry was in possession of all the facts . . . When I heard she had 10 kids I was taken aback. But by then we had denied that we had anything to do with it.”

IRA organisation

Bell said he was offered the position of adjutant at the time by the then IRA leader Séamus Twomey but he was happy for Adams to take on that role. Twomey told him he would have to take orders from Adams and Bell said: “I don’t give a piss if I am taking orders from Gerry.”

He was happy to take orders from him as long as they were “sensible” orders.

Asked did he trust Adams, he said: “Of course I trusted Gerry.”

When asked did Adams and McClure run a tight ship, Bell referred to the “MRF thing” and how when Adams was released from prison around that period, he – Bell – said to McClure “tie in with Gerry on the MRF thing”.

He also said on the tape in relation to the British army’s Military Reaction Force or Military Reconnaissance Force – both names have been applied to the MRF – that he said to Adams: “Gerry will you handle that – I’ll handle the operations end of it here and once it comes we can all get together on it”.

This appears to be a reference to the bogus Four Square Laundry run by the MRF in Belfast in 1972. It was discovered by the IRA when it determined that two of its members, Séamus Wright – whom Bell referred to earlier – and Kevin McKee, who were also killed and disappeared, allegedly were working for the MRF.

In early October 1972, the IRA attacked a Four Square Laundry van in the Twinbrook area of west Belfast during which the driver, an undercover British soldier, was killed.

Bell’s defence counsel Barry MacDonald, when later challenging the accuracy of Bell’s overall account, cited an extract from a tape, not played in the court, where Bell suggested that two soldiers, not one, were killed in that ambush.

On the tape, McIntyre asked Bell was there any “hesitancy” about Adams when he came out of prison. McIntyre said: “Do you think jail had any impact on him at all even though he was in for a short time? Sometimes a short time – people get a short sharp shock and they don’t like it.”

Bell said he was “just the same Gerry . . . he was straight back into work”.

And asked why Adams was “so sensitive to this Jean McConville affair”, Bell said: “I think it was the fact she had 10 kids. I think that’s the reason for the sensitivity.”

He also spoke about a “girl” who was involved in the abduction who was a friend of Bell’s who was “upset about the whole thing”.

He added about McConville: “But at the end of the day she was the architect of her own downfall. But with the 10 kids we would have had to consider the 10 kids, full stop.”

During the trial the court also heard how former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan after an investigation found there was no evidence that Jean McConville was involved in such activity for the British army. Her children also deny that she was so involved.

Second tape

In the second tape Bell said he engaged with the Belfast Project to ensure there was “historical accuracy” about his IRA involvement. And he added: “And, two, which is a major, major thing with me, is that Gerry has lied about being in the IRA. I don’t mind him doing that because if he said he was in the IRA they would probably say, ‘Well you were involved in shooting X, Y and Z’, you know. I felt he could have said, ‘I wouldn’t answer that to the police, I’ll not answer it to you’.”

On disappearing people, Bell said: “It is widely known within the IRA there were three things that I was totally opposed to: One, was torture in any form, and that goes back to the ‘70s; two, sectarianism, shooting Protestants in revenge for the killing of Catholics, totally opposed to it; and, three, secretly burying people. I wasn’t opposed to shooting touts but I couldn’t see the sense of shooting anybody and burying them.”

He added that if “he had known she had 10 children he would have said, ‘No, don’t shoot her because I would have seen the amount of bad propaganda that would have come out of it. But to compound it all by hiding the body. Then years later having to go and dig the body up, you know I couldn’t.”

McIntyre then referred to the previous tape and said that at that time Bell “had a certain memory of the event that led us to believe that you were not sure that Gerry gave the order to disappear her”.

McIntyre added that in a conversation “off tape” Bell had refreshed his memory and had since “come to the conclusion that Gerry did give the order to disappear her”.

McIntyre asked was it Adams and McClure who were responsible for her disappearance. Bell said: "They were, they would have recommended her disappearance"

Bell referred to McConville being “passed back to GHQ” and if “GHQ had have wanted they would have said ‘No’ [to her disappearance]”

McIntyre: “But do you recall at any point Pat or Gerry saying that she should be disappeared?”

Bell: “Yeah. They said they couldn’t take the heat from throwing her on the street.”

McIntyre asked was it Adams and McClure who were responsible for her disappearance. Bell said: “They were, they would have recommended her disappearance.”

He added that at the end of the day somebody on GHQ “could have said ‘No’, you know”.

McIntyre finally put it to Bell that for him to be arguing against her disappearance he had to “argue against somebody”.

Bell said: “Oh aye, yeah. I was arguing with Gerry and Pat, that’s all. I wasn’t arguing with myself.”

Adams in court

On Monday of this week, Gerry Adams appeared to give evidence dressed in a dark suit and wearing a pink tie and with his hair longer than normal.

He acknowledged the McConvilles in the public gallery as he entered the court. On the stand he swore on the Bible to tell the truth.

Bell’s counsel MacDonald put it to Adams the allegation that at a meeting in west Belfast in late 1972 he, McClure and Bell were party to a decision to murder McConville. Adams “categorically” denied any involvement. “I never had any discussion with Ivor Bell or indeed with any other person about Mrs McConville.”

When MacDonald asked, as Bell alleged in the tapes, was his attitude to McConville that “she was just a tout and should be shot”, he replied: “No.”

“I actually don’t think Mrs McConville should have been shot,” said Adams.

Further asked by MacDonald was he involved in the planning of the murder of McConville he again replied “No”.

Asked did he have any idea why someone might suggest he was involved in her murder Adams said that in the tapes McIntyre “asked a lot of leading questions”.

“Anthony McIntyre with others was involved in opposing – which he was entitled to do – the strategy which I and others were developing, which subsequently led to the peace process, which ended the IRA effectively,” he added.

“I have learned to put up with many of the accusations that were made against me. That goes with the work I do. Suffice to say those who made those accusations are very hostile to the work that I was doing,” he said.

Adams said that McIntyre was an “outspoken critic” of him and that he and others had described him (Adams) and others involved in the peace process as “traitors”.

Adams referred to how his home in Belfast was attacked quite recently, how there were threats against his life and how the home of the late Martin McGuinness in Derry also was attacked on a number of occasions.

“There is a small unrepresentative cadre, cohort, of either former republican activists or some [others] who never experienced the worst aspects of the conflict who see myself as a traitor to the republican cause,” he said.

He added that the late Dolours Price, a former IRA prisoner, also spoke out about the peace strategy being an "act of treason"

Adams referred to the late Brendan Hughes, another former IRA member who provided testimony to the Belfast Project. "Brendan Hughes was a very good friend of mine for a long time," he said.

Hughes had made a number of vitriolic public pronouncements about him (Adams). He said that at one stage he saw an interview where he said that Adams should be shot and that he would do it, but that if he were to meet Hughes “he would embrace me and apologise”.

He added that the late Dolours Price, a former IRA prisoner, also spoke out about the peace strategy being an “act of treason”.

“Ed Moloney has also been an opponent of the process,” he added. “I don’t know why he would have such vitriolic views. Unlike the others he never served a day in prison. To my knowledge he was not an activist,” said Adams.

Further criticising Moloney, he said the oral history was a “most suspect project” with no “real scholarly, historical process of evaluating and bringing forward facts about Irish history”.

Adams referred to his arrest in 2014 in connection with the murder of McConville and how police played part of the tape of Ivor Bell to him. “I did not recognise the voice as Ivor Bell. Now, I have not been talking to Ivor Bell in decades but I did not recognise that was Ivor Bell,” he said.

After the questioning by the defence lawyer, counsel for the prosecution Ciarán Murphy then took Adams through various elements of Bell’s recordings.

Adams told Murphy he wasn’t “entirely” shocked by the allegations because at the time there were media stories and other accounts of the disappearance and killing of McConville. “I have learned not to be surprised by anything,” he said.

Asked did he do anything about these accusations he replied: “What could I do?”

Adams was asked about a republican delegation, of which he was a member, that was flown to London in 1972 to meet the then northern secretary William Whitelaw. He said his "status" on it was as a member of Sinn Féin, and that he had been released from internment to attend the talks.

The talks led to a brief ceasefire. Adams said the decision on the IRA “truce” was not made by that delegation but was made later by the IRA leadership. The purpose of the London meeting was to build a “gap, a sos, to pause the hostilities”, he said.

“I was not in the IRA at that time,” added Adams. “Nobody at the meeting described themselves as being representative of the IRA. The issue would not have come up.”

He said he did not know what was Bell’s position within the IRA and he did not know if Bell was in the IRA at the time. He, Adams, at that period was involved in “re-ordering and re-orienteering” Sinn Féin and “Ivor Bell would have been around some of that”.

Murphy then referred to how Bell said that he, Bell, Adams and McClure at that period were the “strategic driving force” behind the IRA’s Belfast brigade. Bell was described as operations officer, McClure as intelligence officer and Adams as officer commanding.

He said he had already answered that question and he added, “You are asking me to respond to accusations from somebody called Z. What year are we in? What place are we in?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Adams when asked about Bell being operations officer.

He was then questioned about his relationship with Bell. Asked did he accept he was in prison with Ivor Bell he said: “I was in prison with a thousand others. He was among them, yes.”

Murphy said that Bell had a conviction for trying to help him escape from prison in 1974.

“Fair enough,” said Adams, which prompted the judge to say: “Fair enough is not an adequate response”.

Adams said he had forgotten that Bell was convicted. “I do not want to give the impression that I did not know Ivor Bell. Of course I did. I was found guilty on two charges of attempted escape so that’s the reason why I did not remember which was which.”

Murphy said: “You were interned together. You escaped together. You were at talks in London. You had known him for years.”

Adams said McClure was from the same general neighbourhood as him. “I think he was a bit older than me. I met him when we were interned,” he said.

Murphy: “What was his role in the IRA?”

Adams: “I don’t know.”

Later during cross-examination, Adams told Murphy: “I did know Pat McClure. I did know Ivor Bell. That does not mean I was responsible for them.”

Murphy then asked about Robert “Beano” Lean, an IRA informer whose evidence led to Bell being briefly arrested in the early 1980s. He was released when Lean retracted his evidence. Adams described Lean as being part of the “paid perjurer era”.

Adams also denied sending Storey to Bell to inquire about the disappearance of McConville. “I certainly did not ask anyone to go to Ivor Bell or anyone else for that matter,” he said.

He also dismissed any suggestion he was aware of Bell telling Storey that he, Adams, was a “liar”.

Adams in later referring to Bell and the Belfast Project said: “He gave an interview which was not to be made public until his death. I am not taking lectures from somebody like that.”

Adams, who is 71, wasn’t sure if he knew Storey from the early 1970s as he was possibly more than 10 years older than Storey. He said he valued Storey’s friendship.

Adams said: "What I did do, and it is a matter of public record: when I was approached by Mrs McConville's family about the disappearance of their mother, myself and a man called Fr Alex Reid commenced a process of trying to establish what happened."

He added that “the short version was that the IRA agreed on one hand to look at the cases and on the other hand the British and Irish governments agreed to establish a commission to receive information”.


In 1999, the IRA admitted killing and disappearing nine people.

Adams said he was still involved in trying to assist in tracing the bodies of the three remaining Disappeared – Columba McVeigh, Captain Robert Nairac and Joe Lynskey.

Adams said he worked with the commission “to try to give these families what they deserved, a Christian burial” because “a grave injustice was done to them”.

“The families should never have been left in that situation,” he said.

He said his first recollection of being aware of the disappearance of McConville was years after 1972 when Helen McKendry, her daughter, contacted him. He knew nothing of her disappearance at that time.

Adams agreed that in November, December and January 1972 he was not in prison. He said he was on the run, living mostly in west Belfast but that he was rarely in his family home.

When Adams spoke about McIntyre asking “leading questions”, Murphy said they were answered by Bell “in a way that does not seek to penalise you”.

Adams said he first became aware of McIntyre during “republican family meetings” at the time of the peace process when McIntyre took issue with the direction the republican movement was taking.

“But other than his personal controversy around Boston College and various interviews, no, I do not profess to know him. I certainly have no recollection of knowing him,” he said.

Adams, when asked about the priest allegedly refusing to assist McConville, said he had already answered the question by saying he was not at the alleged meeting.

Adams said he couldn't "bring Mrs McConville back" but he could "at least rectify the injustice that was done" through his work with the late Fr Reid about the Disappeared

He added: “I did not have any discussions about Mrs McConville. You see I have never hidden my associations with the IRA. I have never sought to distance myself from the IRA. I have denied IRA membership even though at the time I would have seen it as a legitimate response to what was happening.”

He said it was “totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folk”. In particular, he added, there should have been “compassion shown to Mrs McConville – a lone woman with 10 children – that should have begged compassion”.

Adams said he couldn’t “bring Mrs McConville back” but he could “at least rectify the injustice that was done” through his work with the late Fr Reid about the Disappeared.

“I can say that the IRA was a legitimate response to British military occupation, to engage in armed action . . . The IRA did things including things that were totally wrong,” he added.

Asked about “touts” he said he did not like the word. But if people were agents or informers they were liable to be shot.

“It is a regrettable fact that when armies are engaged in war they do kill those that would have been perceived as having assisted the enemy by giving information or in any way jeopardising [the organisation],” he said.

That also happened in the 1920s and at other times.

Murphy asked him would he have had a problem “shooting touts”.

“I would have a problem shooting anyone. That’s a very loaded question. I am not on trial here,” he replied.

Asked as a general principle did he support the IRA he said he did not support all armed actions while referring to “some atrocities”. He didn’t offer “carte blanche support for the IRA”

“I also think, as we reflect back on what has occurred in my lifetime, I am lucky enough to have survived it,” he added.

He also denied other allegations from Bell’s tapes such as being a member of the IRA Belfast brigade, of referring McConville’s fate to the IRA GHQ and having said that the fact she had 10 children was a good enough reason for disappearing McConville.

As that line of questioning continued Adams said to Murphy: “You are asking me to comment on a meeting I was not at.” The lawyer responded that he was giving him an opportunity to say he was not at the meeting.

“Thank you,” said Adams.

Adams asked why McIntyre was “not asked in here”.

The court during the trial heard that McIntyre and Moloney would not cooperate with the case.

Towards the end of his evidence, Adams repeated what he said a number of times over an hour and 17 minutes of testimony: “I categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville or indeed any others.”

Forensic evidence

Allen Hirson, a University of London a senior lecture in phonetics and forensic science, gave evidence comparing Bell’s Boston tapes with tapes of his interviews with the PSNI after he was arrested in 2014.

He told of how he listened to the pitch, quality, intonation and fluency of the voice from each tape, how he looked out for the selection of particular words, noting for instance that Bell used words like “gonna” and “gotta”. Hirson found an infrequently used word, “thingy”; and how he used strong or weak consonants. He also told the court how he measured the voices through spectography and that he developed a phonetic, linguistic and acoustic profile of the two voices.

He reached the conclusion that the tape voices were from the same speaker. Hirson said he applied a scale of: categorically the same speaker; highly likely to be the same speaker; likely to be; fairly likely and more than likely. He placed it in the middle of the scale that it was “likely” that the voices were from the one speaker, Bell.

MacDonald challenged him on a number of points and Hirson accepted that voice recognition techniques were not as reliable as fingerprints or DNA testing. He said he had conducted 2,000 forensic tests, had worked in the field for 30 years and ultimately stood by his finding, while acknowledging it was not categorical.

The issue of whether it would be accepted that “Z” on the tapes actually was Bell came up a number of times over the course of the trial, with the defence disputing the matter. On Wednesday, however, the second last day of the trial, Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that “overwhelmingly” the evidence was that the voice on the Boston tapes was that of Bell, this evidence included Bell referring to himself a number of times on the tapes as “Ivor”.

On the first week of the trial. PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Peter Montgomery gave evidence of travelling to the United States to collect the Boston tapes.

Montgomery said some questions were leading, some were not

During cross-examination, defence counsel MacDonald strongly focused on his argument that the Belfast Project had been discredited by academics. He also said that McIntyre was a “hardline dissident opposed to the peace process” with Montgomery saying he was not aware he was “anti peace process”.

MacDonald further put it to him that McIntyre had an “agenda to discredit Gerry Adams” and that he asked Bell “a series of leading questions”.

Montgomery said some questions were leading, some were not.

MacDonald: “He was a man on a mission and had an agenda to discredit Gerry Adams and other architects of the peace process.”

Montgomery: “I did not think he was trying to undermine the peace process.”

MacDonald also queried the allegation that McConville was given a British army radio and that she also was providing information to a nearby British army base by using blinds to send particular messages.

The officer said there were no such records of this happening from that period.

MacDonald further queried how there also were no records of Bell being seen in the Belfast area in December around the time of McConville’s disappearance when such a “senior figure in the IRA” would have been likely to be closely monitored.

With the monitoring resources that were available in 1972 “the fact he was not seen in Belfast does not mean he was not in Belfast”, said Montgomery.

2014 interviews

A PSNI detective constable gave evidence of arresting and cautioning Bell in March 2014 in connection with the murder of McConville, and how he was interviewed over four days about the killing.

During those interviews he denied involvement a number of times, said the witness. “I had no part in the abduction or the murder or the hiding of Jean McConville. That’s it,” insisted Bell.

Various extracts from the tapes were put to Bell but he held to the line that he was not involved.

Bell said he was living in a caravan in Clogherhead, Co Louth from November 1972 through to January 1973 at the time of her murder and disappearance. He broke his wrist when in Co Louth.

The officer said that as part of his investigations he called to Bell’s ex-wife Marian in Belfast, who provided an alibi for him. He told her he was trying to confirm Bell’s movements in November and December 1972.

“At the time Jean McConville was abducted he was with me and the kids,” his ex-wife told the detective constable.

She remembered this, she told the officer, because “it would have been the week before Christmas that we met him, and I had all the kids’ toys with me”.

She said they had three children and were still married in 1972. At that time he was on the run. She said she remembered the disappearance “of this woman with 10 kids” because it had been reported on television at the time.

The officer said that she refused to consider going to the police to discuss the issue further. The officer told the court he believed it was correct that police carried out extensive checks and could find no record of Bell being in Belfast around the time of McConville’s murder.

Boston videolink

Kevin O’Neill, a professor of history from Boston College, gave evidence from the US by video link. He was asked in 2001 to vet one of the Belfast Project interviews to ensure it was meeting the proper standards for an oral history project.

O’Neill said he detected bias by the interviewer “against the Good Friday agreement and those who support it”.

After he made his report to he said was “frozen out from any discussion about the project”.

O'Neill, who had a copy of the Ivor Bell Boston tapes to consult as he gave evidence, said the oral history was "a deeply flawed project" because of the "lack of proper consent" it offered interviewees and because of the "unrealistic goals" that it could protect interviewees from prosecution.

He also had serious concerns about McIntyre’s “interviewing techniques”, what he felt were leading questions from McIntyre, how there was focus on opposition to Gerry Adams and the mainstream republican movement, how there was preparation by McIntyre of Bell off tape, how he felt that those supportive of the Belfast Agreement would not be willing to engage with the project, and how it offered the potential for interviewees “to present details that were contrary to the truth”.

He thought the US court decision to release the tapes was incorrect. "But I accept the law"

O’Neill had reservations about the formulation of questions and he had the sense that often McIntyre “attempted to give the answer to his question in his question”.

He said he objected to Boston College releasing the materials to the PSNI because of the confidentiality agreement. He thought the US court decision to release the tapes was incorrect. “But I accept the law.”

O’Neill said that otherwise he thought the project and the tapes were “extremely valuable” as an oral history.

As for the overall Belfast Project he said, “It was highly controversial. It is now held up as a model of how not to do oral history.”

Mr Justice O’Hara largely agreed that the tapes were compromised, saying that the “professor’s analysis seems persuasive to me” .

“This was due to the clear bias shown by the interviewer Mr McIntyre as he led and encouraged Mr Bell.”

The judge added that people could make up their own minds on the tapes. He said: “The tapes will become public with the end of this trial.  Everyone who reads about them can form their own view, informed or otherwise, on the many issues they raise.  But in the context of a criminal trial they are just not reliable or fairly obtained evidence.”

The five McConville children who sat together in the public gallery throughout the case – Archie, Michael, Thomas, Susan and Jim – gathered outside the court to say: “We may not have got justice, but we have got some truth.”

Michael said the only way they would get “any justice” was if someone handed themselves into the police and admitted the crime – “and that’s not going to happen”.   Susan, who has the lovely features of her mother, agreed. She said: “As a family we are going to have to stick together no matter what happens.”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times