Murder of Jean McConville
Jean McConville (née Murray; 7 May 1934 – December 1972) was a woman from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who was kidnapped, brutally beaten, and finally shot dead by the Provisional IRA and secretly buried in County Louth in the Republic of Ireland in 1972. She was accused of passing information to British forces.
In 1999, the IRA acknowledged that it had killed McConville and eight others of the "Disappeared". It claimed she had been passing information about republicans to the British Army in exchange for money and that a transmitter had been found in her apartment. A report by the Police Ombudsman found no evidence for this or other rumours. Since the Irish War of Independence, the various IRAs had a policy of killing those it believed to be informers. During the Troubles, both Irish republican and loyalist paramilitaries carried out such killings. As she was a widowed mother of ten, the McConville killing was particularly controversial. Her body was not found until 2003, and the crime has not been solved. The Police Ombudsman found that the Royal Ulster Constabulary did not begin to properly investigate the disappearance until 1995.
Jean Murray was born on 7 May 1934 to a Protestant family in East Belfast but converted after marrying Arthur McConville, a Catholic former British Army soldier, by whom she had ten children. After being intimidated out of a Protestant district by loyalists in 1969, the McConville family moved to West Belfast's Divis Flats in the Lower Falls Road. Arthur died from cancer in January 1972.
At the time of her death, Jean McConville lived at 1A St Jude's Walk, which was part of the Divis Flats complex. This was an IRA stronghold, from which attacks were regularly launched against the British Army and RUC. Since the death of her husband, she had been raising their ten children, who were aged between six and twenty. Their son Robbie was a member of the 'Official' IRA and was interned in Long Kesh at the time of her death; he would defect to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1974.
In the months leading up to her death, tension and suspicion grew between McConville and her neighbours. One night shortly before her disappearance, she was allegedly attacked after leaving a bingo hall and warned to stop giving information to the British Army. According to police records, on 29 November 1972 a British Army unit found a distressed woman wandering in the street. She told them her name was McConville and that she had been attacked and warned to stop informing. One of McConville's children claimed she was kidnapped the night after this incident, but others gave the date of the kidnapping as 7 December.
On the night of her disappearance, four young women took McConville from her home at gunpoint, and she was driven to an unknown location. Dolours Price admitted that she was one of those involved. After being interrogated, McConville was shot in the back of the head, apparently while kneeling. Some have suggested that she was also tortured, as the post-mortem found cracked bones and mutilated hands. Her body was secretly buried across the border on Shellinghill Beach (also known as Templetown Beach) on the Cooley Peninsula in the north of County Louth, about 50 miles from her home. The place of her death is uncertain.
Although no group admitted responsibility for her disappearance, there were rumours that the IRA had killed her for being an informer. Another rumour is that she was killed because neighbours claimed they saw her helping a badly wounded British soldier outside her home; however, there is no record of such an incident. McConville's children say they recall her helping a wounded British soldier some time before their father died in January 1972. In a 2014 interview published in the Sunday Life, veteran republican Evelyn Gilroy claimed the person who had tended to the soldier was her [Gilroy's] sister.
The IRA did not admit involvement until after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It claimed she was killed because she was passing information about republicans to the British Army. Former IRA member Brendan Hughes claimed the IRA had searched her flat some time before her death and found a radio transmitter, which they confiscated. He and other former republicans interrogated her and claimed she admitted the British Army was paying her for information about republicans. Hughes claims that, because of her circumstances, they let her go with a warning. However, he claims when the IRA found she had resumed working for the British Army, it decided to "execute" her.
Usually the bodies of informers were left in public as a warning, but the IRA secretly buried McConville, apparently because she was a widowed mother-of-ten. The IRA had first done this two months earlier, when it killed and buried two IRA members who were found to be working undercover for the British Military Reaction Force (MRF).
After her disappearance, McConville's seven youngest children, including six-year-old twins, survived on their own in the flat, cared for by their 15-year-old sister Helen. After three weeks, the hungry family was visited by a stranger, who gave them Jean's purse, with 52 pence and her three rings in it. On 16 January 1973 the story of the abduction appeared on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph, under the headline "Snatched mother missing a month". The following day, the children were interviewed on the BBC television programme Scene Around Six. The children reported to the social services, and were immediately brought into local council care. The family was forcibly split up by social services. Among the consequences of the killing, Jean's orphaned son Billy was sent to De La Salle Boys' Home, Rubane House, Kircubbin, County Down, notorious for child abuse; he testified in 2014 to the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, describing repeated sexual and physical abuse, and starvation, saying "Christians looking after young boys – maybe they were Christians, but to me they were devils disguised in that uniform."
Within two days of her kidnapping, one of her sons reported the incident to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army. However, the Police Ombudsman did not find any trace of an investigation into the kidnapping during the 1970s or 1980s. An officer told the Ombudsman that CID investigations in that area of Belfast at that time were "restricted to the most serious cases". On 2 January 1973, the RUC received two pieces of information stating: "it is rumoured that Jean McConville had been abducted by the [IRA] because she is an informer". In March 1973, information was received from the British Army, saying the kidnapping was an elaborate hoax and that McConville had left of her own free will. As a result, the RUC refused to accept that McConville was missing, preferring to believe an anonymous tip that she had absconded with a British soldier. The first investigation into her kidnapping appears to have taken place in 1995, when a team of RUC detectives was established to review the cases of all those who were thought to have been kidnapped during the conflict.
In 1999, the IRA gave information on the whereabouts of her body. This prompted a prolonged search, co-ordinated by the Garda Síochána, the Irish police service, but no body was found. On the night of 26 August 2003, a storm washed away part of the embankment supporting the west side of Shellinghill Beach car park, near the site of previous searches. This exposed the body. On 27 August, it was found by passersby while they were walking on Shellinghill Beach (also known as Templetown Beach) at the eastern tip of the Cooley Peninsula. McConville was subsequently reburied beside her husband Arthur in Holy Trinity Graveyard in Lisburn.
Police Ombudsman's report
In April 2004 the inquest into McConville's death returned a verdict of unlawful killing.
In 2006 the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan, published a report about the police’s investigation of the murder. It concluded that the RUC did not investigate the murder until 1995, when it carried out a minor investigation. It found no evidence that she had been an informer, and said that the British Government should go against its long-standing policy regarding informers and reveal whether she was one. Journalist Ed Moloney called for the British Government to release war diaries relating to the Divis Flats area at the time. War diaries are usually released under the thirty-year rule, but those relating to Divis at the time of McConville's death are embargoed for almost ninety years.
The police have since apologised for its failure to investigate her abduction. In January 2005, Sinn Féin party chairman Mitchel McLaughlin claimed that the killing of McConville was not a crime, saying that she had been executed as a spy in a war situation. This prompted Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole to write a rebuttal, arguing that the abduction and extrajudicial killing of McConville was clearly a "war crime by all accepted national and international standards". Although maintaining that McConville was an informer, the IRA has since issued a general apology, saying it "regrets the suffering of all the families whose loved ones were killed and buried by the IRA".
PSNI investigation and Boston College tapes
In August 2006, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Sir Hugh Orde, stated that he was not hopeful anyone would be brought to justice over the murder, saying "[in] any case of that age, it is highly unlikely that a successful prosecution could be mounted."
Boston College had launched an oral history project on the Troubles in 2001. It recorded interviews with republicans and loyalists about their involvement in the conflict, on the understanding that the tapes would not be released until after their deaths. Two of the republican interviewees, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, both now deceased, admitted they were involved in McConville's kidnapping. Both became diehard opponents of the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin's support of it. They saw Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams as a traitor for negotiating the Agreement and persuading the IRA to end its campaign.
In 2010, after Hughes's death, some of his statements were published in the book Voices from the Grave. He claimed McConville had admitted being an informer, and that Adams ordered her disappearance. In a 2010 newspaper article, Price also claimed McConville was an informer and that Adams ordered her disappearance, which has been strenuously denied by Ed Moloney. Price, who died in 2013, said she gave the interviews as revenge against Adams. Former republican prisoner Evelyn Gilroy, who lived near McConville, claimed Adams was an IRA commander and the only person who could have ordered the killing.
In 2011, the PSNI began a legal bid to gain access to the tapes. Acting on a request from the PSNI, the United States Justice Department tried to force Boston College to hand them over. Boston College had promised those interviewed that the tapes would not be released until after their deaths, and other interviewees said they feared retribution if the tapes were released. Following a lengthy court battle, the PSNI was given transcripts of interviews by Hughes and Price.
In March and April 2014, the PSNI arrested a number of people over the kidnapping and killing of Jean McConville. Ivor Bell, former IRA Chief of Staff, was arrested in March 2014. Shortly afterwards, he was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville.
Following the arrest of Ivor Bell in March, there was media speculation that police would want to question Gerry Adams due to the claims made by Hughes and Price. Adams maintained he was not involved, but had his solicitor contact the PSNI to find whether they wanted to question him. On 30 April, after being contacted by the PSNI, Adams voluntarily arranged to be interviewed at Antrim PSNI Station. He was arrested and questioned for four days before being released without charge. A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to decide whether further action should be taken, but there was "insufficient evidence" to charge him.
The arrest took place during an election campaign. Sinn Féin claimed that the timing of the arrest was politically motivated; an attempt to harm the party's chances in the upcoming elections. Alex Maskey said it was evidence of a "political agenda [...] a negative agenda" by elements of the PSNI.
Jean McConville's family had campaigned for the arrest of Adams over the murder. Her son Michael said "Me and the rest of my brothers and sisters are just glad to see the PSNI doing their job. We didn't think it would ever take place [Mr Adams' arrest], but we are quite glad that it is taking place." In a later interview on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, he stated that he knew the names of those who had abducted and killed his mother, but that: "I wouldn't tell the police [PSNI]. If I told the police now a thing, me or one of my family members or one of my children would get shot by those [IRA] people. It's terrible that we know those people and we can't bring them to justice."
- Disappeared (Northern Ireland)
- Internal Security Unit
- Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains
- Murder of Thomas Oliver
- "Jean McConville's daughter 'will give names'". RTÉ News. 2 May 2014; accessed 17 May 2014.
- McKittrick, David (2001), Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Random House. p. 301
- "Jean McConville: The Disappeared mother-of-ten", BBC News, 1 May 2014.
- Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 123. ISBN 0-393-05194-3.
- "Jean McConville murder: Woman released pending PPS report". BBC News. 10 April 2014.
- Melaugh, Martin. Killings of Alleged Informers, cain.ulst.ac.uk; accessed 5 May 2014.
- Police Ombudsman: Report (2006) into complaint by James and Michael McConville regarding the police investigation into the abduction and murder of their mother, Mrs Jean McConville (Page 3), cain.ulst.ac.uk; accessed 7 MAy 2014.
- David McKittrick. The London Independent. 25 September 2003
- Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.2
- Hanley & Millar, B&S (2009). The Lost Revolution: The story of the Official IRA and the Workers Party. Ireland: Penguin Ireland. p. 285. ISBN 978-1-84488-120-8.
- Amanda Foreman (4 December 2010). "Sinn Fein should never be able to escape Jean McConville's ghost". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.4
- Graham, Bob (23 September 2012). "IRA bomber says Gerry Adams sanctioned mainland bombing campaign". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK.
- "Jean McConville shot in the back of the head", breakingnews.ie, 28 August 2003; accessed 5 May 2014.
- Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.7
- "My sister lived five doors from Jean McConville in Farset Walk in the flats. Weeks before Jean was killed, a soldier was hit on the head by a brick thrown by a local lad. My sister heard him crying. She was a very soft, warm woman and she brought him into the hallway and gave him a glass of water. "Her act of compassion didn't go down well with some. 'Touts Out' and 'Soldier Lover' was painted on her door. The incident was reported to the media. My sister gave an interview to Downtown Radio about her act of mercy and the intimidation that followed."
'Arrest Gerry Adams now' - former republican prisoner breaks her silence on IRA murder of Jean McConville, Evelyn Gilroy interview, Sunday Life, 24 April 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- Moloney, Ed. Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. Faber and Faber, 2010. pp. 128-129
- McKittrick, Lost Lives, p. 275
- Dillon, Martin (2012). The Dirty War. Random House. pp. 49-51
- Police Ombudsman's report (2006), pp. 5-6
- Bowcott, Owen (15 August 2006). "Belfast police sorry for failing woman's family". The Guardian. London, UK.
- UTV:Jean McConville's child 'abused at Rubane', 6 November 2014
- Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p. 10
- No evidence for McConville agent claim: O'Loan; accessed 7 May 2014.
- "Body found was McConville: Gardaí"; accessed 7 May 2014.
- "No evidence for McConville as British agent claim: O'Loan". RTÉ News. 7 July 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- "Jean McConville laid to rest after 31 years." Archived 14 January 2005 at the Wayback Machine
- "Adams 'at heart' of IRA's most shameful killing campaign", guardian.co.uk; accessed 7 May 2014.
- "Unlawful killing of McConville: verdict". RTÉ News. 5 April 2004.
- Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.12
- "Could British war diaries help solve the Jean McConville murder?". TheJournal.ie. 14 July 2013.
- "Resignation call rejected". BBC News.
- Cusack, Jim (23 January 2005). "The murder of Jean McConville was a crime, by any standards anywhere". Irish Independent.
- P. O'Neill (8 July 2006). "Statement on the Abduction and Killing of Mrs Jean McConville in December 1972". Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- IRA murder prosecution 'unlikely', BBC website, 14 August 2006.
- "What are the Boston tapes?". BBC News, 1 May 2014.
- Devlin Barret (9 January 2012). "IRA History Project Snags U.S. School". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- Taylor, Peter (1997). Provos The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 156–157. ISBN 0-7475-3818-2.
- "Gerry Adams ordered Jean McConville killing, says ex-IRA commander on tape", The Guardian, 3 November 2013; accessed 5 May 2014.
- Documents at Boston College by Irish republicans; accessed 7 May 2014.
- , thebrokenelbow.com; 14 November 2011.
- "Dolours Price dies". The Guardian. London, UK.
- "'Arrest Gerry Adams now' - former republican prisoner breaks her silence on IRA murder of Jean McConville", The Belfast Telegraph, 24 April 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams held over Jean McConville murder". BBC News. London. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- "Man arrested in Northern Ireland over 1972 case of 'disappeared' mother", The Guardian, 18 March 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Man in court over McConville murder". UTV News. 22 March 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Pensioner bailed over McConville murder". UTV News. 26 March 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Man, 56, released in McConville case". UTV News. 2 April 2014.
- "Further arrests over McConville murder". UTV News. 17 April 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Adams contacts police over McConville". UTV News. 24 March 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Gerry Adams freed in Jean McConville murder inquiry". BBC News. 4 May 2014.
- "Reports: ‘Insufficient evidence’ on Adams". Evening Echo. 6 May 2014.
- Beaton, Connor (30 April 2014). "SF MLA: Adams arrest ‘negative PSNI agenda’". The Targe. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams arrested over murder of widowed mother abducted in 1972
- "Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams held over Jean McConville murder", bbc.co.uk; accessed 5 May 2014.
- "Son says he knows killers". BBC News. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 5 May 2014.