Ivor Bell, allegedly a senior member of the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, was arrested last week on charges of aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville. For those who have been following the Belfast Project case here for a while, this is interesting for a few reasons.

First, Bell’s lawyer has said that the evidence against Bell comes from the Belfast Project tapes. Because many of the government’s submissions to the US courts have been under seal, and because the Belfast Project tapes themselves are not open to inspection, we have not, until now, known just who was a potential target of the UK criminal investigation. Some have speculated that the target of the proceeding has been Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. We now have reason to think that if he was a target, he was not the only target, and only time will tell if he is a target at all.

Second, some, including Friend of Letters Blogatory Chris Bray, have taken the view that the Belfast Project subpoena was a charade from the beginning and that the UK government never intended to bring criminal charges. We now know that that view is wrong.

It will be interesting to see if the prosecution seeks to introduce the tapes at Bell’s trial, and if so if the court will find the tapes admissible in evidence. We don’t know enough about the contents of the tapes to know how this will play out. But in any event, it could be that the UK authorities have merely used the tapes to lead them to other evidence or to witnesses whose testimony they will offer at trial. Again, only time will tell.