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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Police quiz senior republican figure over McConville murder

Jean McConville and two of her children before she disappeared
Jean McConville and two of her children before she disappeared

Tom Brady, Security Editor

A senior figure in the Provisional republican leadership during the Northern Troubles is being questioned by police investigating the murder of mother of 10, Jean McConville, more than 40 years ago.

Mrs McConville became one of the "disappeared" after she was abducted by a gang of IRA thugs from her west Belfast home, shot in the head and secretly buried.

PSNI officers arrested 77-year-old Ivor Bell, a veteran republican, at his home in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast at lunchtime yesterday.

He was taken to Antrim police station for questioning by members of the serious crime branch and was still being held there last night.

Police would not comment last night on the decision to make an arrest more than 42 years after the murder and could not confirm what new information had emerged about the horrific case.

Bell was regarded as a key figure in the Provisional movement and was highly influential in Belfast, where he was at one stage a close associate of Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.

In 1972, he was a member of a republican delegation, which also included Mr Adams and Martin McGuinness, currently deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland but then an IRA leader in Derry, who were flown to London by the RAF to hold secret ceasefire talks with British government ministers.

This resulted in a truce being called but it collapsed within days. Bell was interned in the Maze prison in February 1974 but two years later escaped from jail after swapping places with a visitor.

After a major manhunt, he was recaptured a fortnight later when police raided a flat in the Malone area of south Belfast.

Jean McConville was a 37-year-old widow when she was taken from her home in the Divis flats complex by a group of up to a dozen IRA men and women and bundled into the back of a van.

She was shot in the back of the head and her body buried at Shelling Hill beach in north Louth, about 50 miles from her home.

The IRA subsequently claimed she had been murdered because she was giving information to the security forces.

This claim was strenuously denied by her family, and following an investigation former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan subsequently found that there was no evidence to support the IRA's allegation.

The abduction was initially highlighted extensively by the media but interest in the story waned after the IRA put out a story that she was not dead but was "lying low".

Jean McConville became one of 16 people, who later became known as "the disappeared". The remains of seven of that group have not yet been found despite extensive searches carried out under the control of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' remains.

Disaffected republicans later claimed that her abduction had been ordered by Mr Adams. But he has consistently denied the claims and said that he was not a member of the IRA.

Her body was found on the beach in August 2003.

One of her children, Agnes described her recollection of the abduction of their mother.

"We could hear her squealing, and looked over the bannister on Divis Flats and there she was getting thrown into the back of a van.

"That was the last time that we saw her".

Irish Independent

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