Trial of veteran republican over Jean McConville murder cost £109,000

The trial of a veteran republican on charges relating to the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville cost the public purse over £100,000, it can be revealed.

Ivor Bell, 82, was found not guilty of two charges of soliciting the 1972 murder of the mother-of-10 following the collapse of a trial of the facts earlier this year.

The legal process to establish the truth of the allegations came in November came after Mr Bell was found medically unfit to stand trial in December 2018.

Jean McConville murder
Jean McConville was murdered and secretly buried in 1972 (Undated handout/PA)

No-one has ever been prosecuted for Mrs McConville’s murder, one of the most notorious of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The prosecution case against Mr Bell centred on taped interviews given by a person referred to as Z to Boston College’s Belfast Project.

But the trial collapsed after Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that the Boston Tapes were unreliable and could not be used as evidence against Mr Bell.

The judge told the Belfast Crown Court that the evidence Z was Mr Bell was “overwhelming”, but described interviewer Anthony McIntyre as “not neutral”, and had an agenda against the peace process and Gerry Adams.

The PA news agency can reveal more than £100,000 was spent on the prosecution attempt following a Freedom of Information act request to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

The PPS disclosed that costs for legal counsel were £107,377 while witness costs were £2,109, creating a total bill of £109,486.

A spokesperson for the PPS said they were satisfied it had met the test for prosecution.

The trial was the first time the McConville family had seen a prosecution attempt in connection with the murder, and came almost 50 years after their mother was snatched from their home in west Belfast.

Five of Mrs McConville’s seven surviving children – Archie, Michael, Thomas (Tucker), Susan and Jim – attended every day of the eight-day trial of the facts.

Jean McConville's son Michael McConville
Jean McConville’s son Michael McConville (Liam McBurney/PA)

In a statement following the trial’s collapse, they said in a statement: “We may not have got justice but we have got some truth”.

Mr McIntyre told PA he felt the prosecution attempts had been a “waste of time” and claimed it had brought people “no closer to getting the truth than they were at the start of it”.

But Michael McConville said that for his family it had been about “more than money”.

“I found the trial helpful, there were things said in court that we hadn’t known about,” he said.

“It’s the first time anyone was up in court, I had never thought there would be a court case so it was nice to see.

“It was about more than money.”

Mr McConville said his family wants to see a public inquiry into what happened and why after their mother’s murder, he and his siblings were separated by social services.

Responding to Mr Justice O’Hara’s comments that his style of questioning had been leading, Mr McIntyre said: “I don’t see any point in asking a question that doesn’t lead somewhere, and I would defend very strongly on the grounds that I at no time prompted anybody to give me an answer that I believed to not be true. I invited people to speak to me candidly.

“I would do it differently today but would I change my interview technique? No I wouldn’t … was it courtroom standard, of course not, it was never intended for the courtroom.”

A PPS spokesperson said: “The decision to prosecute Ivor Bell was entirely in line with the duty of the PPS to put before the courts those cases in which it is considered there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, and in which prosecution is in the public interest.

“All decisions were taken by a team of senior and experienced prosecutors fully in accordance with the Test for Prosecution. The PPS is satisfied that this case was properly conducted.

“All fees to counsel in connection with the case were assessed and paid in line with the Prosecution Fee Scheme.”

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