Belfast Project: Chris Bray On The The Ivor Bell Case

Chris Bray, friend of Letters Blogatory and critic of the US and UK governments in the Belfast Project case, is back with an update on the British authorities’ decision to proceed with the prosecution of Ivor Bell.

After more than a year of bumbling indecision, the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland has taken a bold stand: They are beginning to prepare to think about discussing a way to begin. Franz Kafka, call your office.

Fourteen months ago, using questionable evidence obtained from the archives at Boston College with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice, prosecutors in Northern Ireland filed charges against Ivor Bell, who is now 77 years old. Bell is reputed to have been chief of staff to Gerry Adams during the period when the latter was allegedly the Belfast commander of the Provisional IRA, and he was charged in the 1972 kidnapping and murder of the Belfast widow Jean McConville. But he wasn’t charged with that kidnapping and murder; rather, he was charged with having aided and abetted in that crime.

Today, forty-three years after McConville was killed, no one has been charged with killing her, or even publicly identified as a suspect; Ivor Bell is accused of aiding a crime committed by ghosts. News stories have alleged that Adams ordered her killing, but even those claims lack the most basic facts: Who took her out of her home? Who drove her to the beach where her body was found? Who killed her? In the police version of events, which must necessarily underlie an allegation of aiding and abetting, what was the name of the person who pulled the trigger? In short, if Ivor Bell aided and abetted, whom did he aid and abet? Did Bell assist a self-firing gun?

After Bell was first charged last March, the PPS began a long delaying action that saw them returning to court every few weeks to ask for one continuance after another. Finally, this May, a judge in Belfast gave the prosecutors an ultimatum: Make a decision in June, or have the case thrown out of court. So they did. On Thursday morning, the PPS marched back into court to announce that they had decided to proceed with the prosecution of Ivor Bell. They return to court in six weeks.

They are not, however, returning to court in six weeks to begin to prove their case. Here’s how the Irish Times describes the next court date in its story on the most recent developments:

Mr Bell was released on continuing bail and ordered to come back to court in six weeks when a date will be set for a preliminary inquiry to establish whether the case will proceed to trial in the Crown Court. While the PPS lawyer said six weeks was needed before prosecutors would be in a position to set a date due to extensive preparatory work required, Bell’s solicitor Peter Corrigan questioned the timeframe.

If “extensive preparatory work” is required, what they have been doing for the last fourteen months? Never mind that: They will now begin to prepare. In another month and a half, we’ll know if prosecutors in Belfast are able to set a date for an initial hearing that might then, at some future point, lead to an actual trial. Perhaps at the hypothetical future trial someone in Northern Ireland’s system of law enforcement will be able to whisper the name of Jean McConville’s actual supposed murderer. But perhaps not.

The murder of Jean McConville has become a can to be kicked endlessly down a road. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston must be very proud to have helped with this important effort.

4 thoughts on “Belfast Project: Chris Bray On The The Ivor Bell Case

  1. Thanks, Chris, for this. The most interesting bit to me is the very end, where you suggest that the US authorities were taken for fools. I think the US provides judicial assistance in such cases because it’s obligated to do so and because it expects treaty partners such as the UK to do likewise. That’s not foolish—that’s smart.

    1. Ted,

      First, thanks for giving this post a home.

      As to the other part, I would put it this way: The smart decision to secure the investigative assistance of other countries by providing investigative assistance to them whenever they ask sometimes has the unfortunate effect of involving American authorities in the painfully bad decisions of foreign governments and their hapless, politicized police. When we weigh the value of the good effect of the bad one, I’m sure we’ll go on making the same choice with regard to mutual legal assistance. But as much as it benefits us, the costs are pretty clear.

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