Ivor Bell, an 82-year-old veteran republican, has been found not guilty of involvement in the 1972 IRA execution of informer Jean McConville.
This morning the judge told the jury there was no evidence to support the prosecution’s case.
“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 prosecution lawyer, Ciaran Murphy, said there would be no appeal of this decision.
Mr Justice O’Hara gave his instruction to the jury after yesterday ruling that evidence from the Boston tapes featuring Mr Bell was inadmissible. The trial had been subject to reporting restrictions until today.
The prosecution case that Mr Bell “encouraged” or “endeavoured to persuade” former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the late Pat McClure to take part in the killing rested on interviews recorded by Boston College’s Belfast Project, also known as the Boston tapes.
Mr Bell gave interviews to the lead researcher in the project, former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, then a history PhD graduate.
On Wednesday Justice O’Hara, following an application by defence lawyer, Barry MacDonald, QC, ruled that the Boston tapes, which had been the subject of an international legal tussle, should be inadmissible.
The trial heard that the Belfast Project had been discredited by academics. One of the witnesses, history professor Kevin O’Neill from Boston College, said the project was “now held up as a model of how not to do oral history”.
Mr MacDonald contended that Mr McIntyre “was a man on a mission and had an agenda to discredit Gerry Adams and other architects of the peace process”.
Justice O’Hara said Mr McIntyre was not a “neutral interviewer”. He said he and Mr Bell had a “clear bias and were out to get Gerry Adams”.
The judge 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”.
During evidence given by Mr Adams, the prosecuting counsel, Ciaran Murphy, asked the former Sinn Féin leader would he have had a problem “shooting touts”.
Mr Adams responded: “I would have a problem shooting anyone. That’s a very loaded question. I am not on trial here.”
He categorically denied the allegations. “I categorically deny any involvement in the abduction, killing and burial of Jean McConville or indeed any others,” he said.
Under cross-examination from Mr Murphy, he said 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.
But the former Sinn Féin leader said the IRA action against Ms McConville, whose body was not returned to her family, was wrong. It was “totally wrong to have shot and secretly buried these folk”, he said, adding that compassion should have been shown to Mrs McConville and her family.
Mr Adams also was highly critical of Mr Moloney and Mr McIntyre and the Belfast Project which he said was “most suspect” with no “real scholarly, historical process of evaluating and bringing forward facts about Irish history”.
FAMILY DENY ALLEGATIONS
After the case a statement was issued on behalf of Mr Bell’s family. They acknowledged that the “entire process has been a difficult and at times frustrating process for the family of Jean McConville, who have been seeking truth and justice for over 50 years”.
They added, “From the outset of this process Ivor has vehemently denied the allegations levelled against him relating to the murder of Jean McConville. He put forward an alibi at the earliest opportunity at the police station.
“In the course of this trial process the court heard evidence which corroborated Ivor’s alibi, and that he was not in the jurisdiction at the time of the murder.”
Mr Bell and his family added that the “court has rightly held that the Boston College tapes are inherently unreliable. We now look forward to putting this case and its ill-founded allegations behind us”.
Peter Corrigan, Mr Bell’s lawyer added: “The Boston tapes were of no benefit from a historical perspective, never mind meeting the threshold of evidence in a criminal trial.
“The process from start to finish was fatally flawed, which lacked the relevant safeguards and as described by one expert during the course of the trial ‘is exactly how not to conduct an oral history project’.”