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By SHAWN POGATCHNIK
30 April 2014
DUBLIN — Police in Northern Ireland arrested Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams on Wednesday over his alleged involvement in the Irish Republican Army’s 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of a Belfast widow.
Adams, 65, confirmed his own arrest in a prepared statement and described it as a voluntary, prearranged interview.
Police long had been expected to question Adams about the killing of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old mother of 10 whom the IRA killed with a single gunshot to the head as an alleged spy.
According to all authoritative histories of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement, Adams served as an IRA commander for decades, but he has always denied holding any position in the outlawed group.
“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family,” Adams said. “Well publicized, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these. While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville.”
Reflecting the embarrassment associated with killing a widowed mother, the IRA did not admit the killing until 1999, when it claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen slayings of long-vanished civilians and offered to try to pinpoint their unmarked graves. McConville’s children had been told she abandoned them, and they were divided into different foster homes.
Her remains were discovered only by accident near a Republic of Ireland beach in 2003. The woman’s skull bore a single bullet mark through the back of the skull, and forensics officer determined she’d been shot once through back of the head with a rifle.
Jean McConville and children
Adams was implicated in the killing by two IRA veterans, who gave taped interviews to researchers for a Boston College history archive on the four-decade Northern Ireland conflict. Belfast police waged a two-year legal fight in the United States to acquire the interviews, parts of which already were published after the 2008 death of one IRA interviewee, Brendan Hughes.
Boston College immediately handed over the Hughes tapes. The college and researchers fought unsuccessfully to avoid handover tapes of the second IRA interviewee, Dolours Price, who died last year.
Both Hughes and Price agreed to be interviewed on condition that their contents were kept confidential until their deaths.
In his interviews Hughes, a reputed 1970s deputy to Adams within the Belfast IRA, said McConville was killed on Adams’ orders. Hughes said Adams oversaw a special IRA unit called “The Unknowns” that was committed to identifying, killing and secretly burying Belfast Catholic civilians suspected of spying on behalf of the police or British Army. An independent investigation by Northern Ireland’s police complaints watchdog in 2006 found no evidence that McConville had been a spy.
Hughes told the researchers he led the IRA team that “arrested” McConville, but her fate was sealed following a policy argument between Adams and the man he succeeded as Belfast commander, Ivor Bell.
He said Bell wanted McConville’s body to be put on public display to intimidate other people from helping the British, but Adams wanted her killing kept mysterious.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed,” Hughes said in the audio recording, which was broadcast on British and Irish television in 2010. “That man is now the head of Sinn Fein. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did.”
A 2010 book written by the lead researcher, journalist Ed Moloney, “Voices From the Grave,” also quoted Hughes as describing Adams as the IRA’s “Belfast Brigade” commander who oversaw planning of the first car-bomb attacks in London in March 1973.
Adams and Hughes were arrested together in July 1973, when the British Army pounced on an IRA commanders’ meeting in West Belfast. Both were interned without trial. Adams was repeatedly interrogated for suspected involvement in IRA bombings and shootings, but was never convicted of any IRA offense besides a failed prison escape during his mid-1970s internment.
Last month Belfast detectives investigating the McConville killing arrested and charged Bell, now 77, with IRA membership and aiding McConville’s murder.
Price, who was a member of the IRA’s 1973 London car-bombing unit, died last year of a suspected drug overdose. She gave interviews to journalists admitting she had driven McConville across the Irish border, where another IRA member shot McConville once through the back of the head. It remains unclear what precisely she told the Boston College project.
Adams was the longtime British Parliament member for West Belfast, although like all Sinn Fein politicians he refused to take his seat in London, citing the required oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.
He never held a post in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, the central peacemaking institution established in the wake of the Good Friday accord of 1998. He stepped down as West Belfast’s MP in 2011 and won election to the Republic of Ireland parliament, where he represents the same border area, County Louth, where McConville’s body was found.
24 March 2014
Sources close to the investigation said it was “far from over” and that detectives want more information on anyone suspected of involvement in the murder, including Mr Adams.
The Sinn Fein president strongly denies any involvement in the Belfast mother of 10’s abduction and death in 1972.
The PSNI is also seeking to question former IRA man turned writer Anthony McIntyre about his Boston College interviews with ex-Provisionals on Ms McConville’s murder.
As the interviewer for the US university’s oral history project, Mr McIntyre’s evidence would be crucial in the case against Bell – and any other alleged former IRA leaders who may in future be charged with involvement.
Belfast Magistrates Court heard on Saturday that Bell was an interviewee in one of the tapes and was known as ‘Man Z’ – something which Bell denies.
The 77-year-old is charged with IRA membership and aiding and abetting in the murder of Jean McConville.
Other alleged former IRA members are expected to be arrested in coming weeks by detectives – who have in their possession tapes of seven republicans, who are all still alive, allegedly discussing the McConville killing.
It is understood the PSNI wants to question Mr McIntyre about Bell’s alleged interview and the conditions in which it took place, in order to corroborate the claims allegedly made on the tape.
Mr McIntyre would also be quizzed as to whether Bell was ‘Man Z’.
However, sources said there were “absolutely no circumstances” in which Mr McIntyre would co-operate with police.
Refusal to do so could result in him facing charges of withholding information – but the sources said he would “go to jail rather than compromise source protection”.
Mr McIntyre is a member of the National Union of Journalists and the issue is to be raised with the union this week.
The ex-IRA man has previously said he has “every sympathy with the McConville family in their search for truth recovery” – but added that “journalists, academics, and researchers need protection if they are to gain the necessary information which offers a valuable insight into the past”.
As the lead researcher for the Belfast project for Boston College between 2001 and 2006, Mr McIntyre conducted over 170 interviews with 26 republicans. They were undertaken on the agreement that they wouldn’t be released until after the interviewee’s death.
Tapes of now-deceased IRA members Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes – who both accused Gerry Adams of ordering Jean McConville’s murder – were handed over to the PSNI by Boston College.
However, a major legal battle followed over the taped interviews of republicans who are still alive.
Ivor Bell (77) refused bail on charges relating to 1972 murder of Jean McConville
22 March 2014
The police case against a veteran republican charged in connection with the notorious IRA murder of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville is based on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers at a US college, a court has heard.
The claim was made as Ivor Bell (77) was refused bail and remanded in custody by a district judge in Belfast accused of aiding and abetting in the murder as well as membership of the IRA.
Boston College interviewed a number of former paramilitaries about the Troubles on the understanding transcripts would not be published until after their deaths.
But that undertaking was rendered ineffective when a US court last year ordered that the tapes be handed over to PSNI detectives.
The interviews included claims about the murder of Mrs McConville, who was abducted by the IRA at her home at Divis Flats, Belfast in 1972, shot dead and then secretly buried.
Applying for bail, Peter Corrigan, representing Bell, told district judge Amanda Henderson that the prosecution case was that an interviewee on one of the Boston tapes, referred to only as ‘Z ’, was his client.
But the solicitor insisted the person interviewed on the tape had denied any involvement in the murder.
“During those interviews Z explicitly states that he was not involved with the murder of Jean McConville,” he said.
Mr Corrigan also questioned the evidential value of the interviews, pointing out that they had not been conducted by trained police officers.
“The defence submits that the evidence does not amount to a row of beans in relation to the murder of Jean McConville,” he said.
Grey-haired moustachioed Bell, from Ramoan Gardens in the Andersonstown district of west Belfast, sat impassively in the dock wearing a grey jumper as his lawyer made the claims.
Some of Mrs McConville’s children watched on from the public gallery.
A PSNI detective inspector, who earlier told the judge he could connect the accused with the charges, rejected Mr Corrigan’s interpretation of the Boston College interview.
He claimed the transcript actually indicated Bell had “played a critical role in the aiding, abetting, counsel and procurement of the murder of Jean McConville”.
The officer said he opposed bail on the grounds that the defendant would likely flee the jurisdiction. He revealed that he had previously used an alias to travel to Spain and predicted he could use contacts within the IRA to travel beyond Northern Ireland.
But Mr Corrigan said that was out of the question, noting that his client suffered from a range of serious medical conditions, that his family was based in Belfast and that he had “every incentive” to stay in Northern Ireland to prove his innocence.
“Are the prosecution seriously suggesting that a man in this serious ill health, who can’t walk up steps, is going to abscond for an offence where he has every incentive to attend court?” he said.
Judge Henderson said the case was a very “significant and sensitive” one and praised those in court for acting with dignity through the hearing.
She said she was more convinced with the argument the prosecution had made.
“I am persuaded by the prosecution in this case and on that basis I am refusing bail,” she said.
Bell was remanded in custody to appear before court again next month.
He waved to supporters in the public gallery as he was led out of the dock.
Mrs McConville was dragged away from her children by an IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused of passing information to the British Army in Belfast.
An investigation later carried out by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman rejected the allegations.
She was shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home.
The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed on to gardaí.
She became one of the so-called Disappeared, and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth.
Nobody has ever been charged with her murder.
After the hearing Mrs McConville’s son Michael said the family’s thoughts were with their mother.
“The pain of losing her has not diminished over the decades since she was taken from us murdered and secretly buried,” he said.
“She is in our hearts and our thoughts always. Whatever the future holds nothing will ever change that”.
Ivor Bell appears in court over 1972 murder of Jean McConville, in case which could implicate senior Irish republicans
22 March 2014
Even two decades after the IRA ceasefire, it is a crime from the bloodiest year of the Troubles that continues to haunt senior Irish republicans including Gerry Adams and could yet have fresh ramifications for the peace process.
In a sensational development inside a Belfast court it was alleged that a former IRA negotiator with the British government named fellow republicans involved in the kidnap, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville – one of the most notorious murders of the conflict.
The ex-IRA commander Ivor Bell appeared in Laganside court on Saturday morning where he faced charges of aiding and abetting in the shooting and disappearance of the mother of 10 in 1972.
Ivor Bell (BBC image)
The children and grandchildren of the murdered widow were in court to hear a detective allege that Bell was “Mr Z” on a tape recorded for Boston College in the US as part of the Belfast Project, a series of interviews with former IRA and loyalist paramilitaries.
Speaking outside the court, McConville’s daughter Helen McKendry told The Observer that she hoped the case would lead to others going on trial for her mother’s killing by the IRA.
“I hope this goes all the way up to the top,” she said, “All the way up to Gerry Adams. There are more people who need to be in this court to answer what happened to my mother.”
The McConville family, along with the former IRA Belfast commanding officer Brendan Hughes, have alleged that Adams created a secret unit to hunt down and kill informers in the city during the early part of the Troubles.
Before his death Hughes claimed that Adams gave the order for McConville to be abducted from her home in Divis Flats in west Belfast, taken across the Irish border, killed and buried in secret.
The Sinn Féin president has always denied any involvement in the McConville murder or that he was ever in the IRA.
It was alleged in court that in the recording, Bell implicates himself and other top republicans in the McConville case.
But his defence solicitor, Peter Corrigan, denied Bell had any involvement in the crime and said “the evidence was not credible”.
The recording for the Belfast Project, which the Police Service of Northern Ireland obtained through the US courts, is the centrepiece of the crown’s case against Bell.
His solicitor said Bell denied any involvement in the IRA murder of McConville.
Appealing for bail for his client, Corrigan stressed that Bell has not been a member of the Provisional IRA since 1985 and had no network around him to aid him to flee Northern Ireland. He told the judge that they would accept “any conditions that you see fit to impose on this defendant”.
However, there was light applause from the McConville family in court when the judge, Fiona Bagnall, refused bail.
McConville was the most famous of the “Disappeared” – 16 people whom the IRA accused of being informers and who were shot and buried secretly across Ireland.
The IRA only admitted her murder in 1993 and her body was not discovered until 2003 on a beach in County Louth. No one until today has ever been charged in connection with her murder.
The IRA accused her of passing information to the British army but her family always denied this, claiming she was singled out because she had tended to a wounded soldier outside her flat.
An investigation by the Northern Ireland police ombudsman rejected the allegation she was an informer.
Bell was a senior IRA officer at the time McConville was seized by armed men and women, and torn away from her children in December 1972.
Six months earlier Bell was part of an IRA delegation that secretly met Willie Whitelaw and several British government officials at the late MP Paul Channon’s flat in London.
Bell, allegedly alongside Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the future deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, met Whitelaw and his team to discuss a ceasefire. However, the truce later broke down amid ongoing violence in Belfast.
Bell was later expelled from the IRA for plotting a coup d’etat against its leadership in the mid-1980s and warned he would be “executed” if he set up a rival republican organisation.
The full trial against the veteran republican will begin on 11 April.
21 March 2014
Ivor Bell in 1983 when he was released after Supergrass, Robert Lean, withdrew evidence against 11 men (Photo: Belfast Telegraph)
A veteran republican has been charged in connection with the IRA murder more than 40 years ago of Belfast mother of 10 Jean McConville.
Ivor Bell, 77, is due to appear in court in Belfast tomorrow accused of aiding and abetting in the murder as well as membership of the IRA.
He was detained at his home in the Andersonstown district of west Belfast on Tuesday.
Mrs McConville, 37, was abducted by the IRA at her home at Divis Flats, Belfast in December 1972, shot dead and then secretly buried.
He murder is one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles.
She was dragged away from her children by a IRA gang of up to 12 men and women after being accused her of passing information to the British Army in Belfast at the time
An investigation later carried out by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman rejected the allegations.
She was shot in the back of the head and buried 50 miles from her home. The IRA did not admit her murder until 1999 when information was passed on to police in the Republic.
She became one of the so-called Disappeared, and it was not until August 2003 that her remains were eventually found on Shelling Hill beach, Co Louth.
Nobody has ever been charged with her murder.
Bell was among of a delegation of republicans, which included Gerry Adams, now the Sinn Féin president, and Martin McGuinness, the North’s Deputy First Minister and a former IRA commander in Derry who were flown by the RAF to London to have ceasefire talks with British ministers in 1972.
But the truce collapsed within days.
77-year-old held by detectives investigating IRA’s kidnapping, killing and secret burial of Belfast widow Jean McConville
18 Mar 2014
A former IRA chief of staff and negotiator for the Provisionals with the British government in 1972 is in custody tonight being questioned about the murder and disappearance of a widow whose death in the same year left 10 children orphaned.
West Belfast republican Ivor Bell was arrested in the city earlier today in connection with one of the most controversial murders of the early years of the Northern Ireland Troubles – the case of “disappeared” mother of 10 Jean McConville. The 77-year-old was detained in the city earlier today by detectives investigating the IRA’s kidnapping, killing and secret burial of the Belfast woman in 1972.
Bell was part of an IRA delegation that met William Whitelaw at future Tory minister Paul Channon’s flat in London six months before McConville’s disappearance.
He and other IRA leaders were trying to negotiate a ceasefire with the British which broke down in the summer of 1972. The republican veteran went on to become a leading figure in the Provisionals but was later sentenced to death by the organisation for allegedly trying to stage a coup d’etat against Gerry Adams in the early 1980s because he became convinced the then West Belfast Sinn Féin MP and others around him were determined to “run down the war” and abandon armed struggle. Since his departure from the IRA, Bell has kept a low profile and effectively bowed out of republican politics.
Jean McConville became one of the most famous of the “disappeared” and her body was not found until 2003 on a beach in Co Louth.
Ex-IRA Belfast commander Brendan Hughes has accused Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, of organising a secret unit which abducted and murdered McConville. The unit was charged with smoking out informers for the British within nationalist-republican areas and in most cases killing them and burying their bodies in secret. Adams has always denied the charge from his former friend and also insisted he was never in the IRA. Hughes made his allegation about Adams on tapes for a Boston College academic project in which ex-IRA and loyalist paramilitaries would speak frankly about their roles in the conflict but which would be released only when they died.
The man arrested today is being questioned at the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s serious crimes suite in Antrim Police station. In 1999, the IRA admitted that it murdered and buried at secret locations nine of the Disappeared.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains was established in 1999 by a treaty between the British and Irish governments, which gave de facto amnesties for any IRA members who had knowledge about the whereabouts of the missing to come forward without fear of prosecution. It lists 16 people as “disappeared”. Despite extensive searches, the remains of seven of them have not been found.
By Philip Bradfield
11 November 2013
The man who allegedly shot Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville was yesterday named as former Sinn Fein councillor and Belfast IRA commander Pat McGeown.
It was claimed yesterday that he also shot dead ‘Good Samaritan’ Protestant workman Sammy Llewellyn when he went to help Catholics on the Falls Road board up windows after an IRA bomb in 1975.
“I was recently approached by grassroots republicans who were sympathetic to the McConville family,” Jean McConville’s son Jim said yesterday in a Sunday paper.
“I was given some details of what happened and only two weeks ago I gave Pat McGeown’s name to my solicitor.”
The paper claimed that McGeown was only 17 when he shot Mrs McConville in the back of the head, and that he later rose to become a close political confidant of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
The News Letter understands McGeown’s name had been widely linked to Mrs McConville’s murder before he died in 1996.
Gerry Kelly MLA said at McGeown’s funeral that he had been a prisoner in “Cage 11” of the Maze with Gerry Adams. Adams officially launched the Pat McGeown Community Endeavour Award at Belfast’s Upper Springfield Development Trust in 1998.
He described McGeown as “a modest man with a quiet, but total dedication to equality and raising the standard of life for all the people of the city”, adding that McGeown “would have been one of the last people to expect an award to be given in his name, and yet few others could have deserved the honour more”.
Mr Kelly said McGeown started “barricade duty” at 13 and then joined the local unit of the IRA in the Beechmount area. He added that “at one point he held the most senior rank in the Belfast brigade of the IRA”.
The book Lost Lives, which lists all those who died during the Troubles, said McGeown’s health never recovered after 47 days on hunger strike.
He was jailed in the Republic for explosives offences aged 14 and at 16 was interned before being imprisoned for a bombing attack.
He served 15 years for bombing the Europa Hotel and was the Officer Commanding of the IRA in the Maze. After being released in 1986, he went on to become group leader of Sinn Fein on Belfast City Council.
Sinn Fein yesterday declined to offer any comment.
Another Sunday paper yesterday reported that the IRA member, then aged 16, who drove Mrs McConville away from her children has phoned her daughter Helen McKendry to apologise.
Recording of deceased Belfast IRA commander Brendan Hughes names Sinn Féin president as giving execution order
2 November 2013
Jean McConville, who disappeared from west Belfast in 1972, with three of her 10 children. (Photograph: PA)
A tape recording of a deceased Belfast IRA commander in which Gerry Adams is accused of ordering the murder and secret burial of a widowed mother of 10 in 1972 will be broadcast for the first time this week.
A former IRA hunger striker, Brendan Hughes, alleges the Sinn Féin president was one of the heads of a unit that kidnapped, killed and buried west Belfast woman Jean McConville. Hughes, who died in 2008, is recorded as saying: “There was only one man who gave that order for that woman to be executed – and that man is now the head of Sinn Féin.” Hughes also says that Adams went to the McConville children after their mother was abducted and promised an internal IRA investigation. “That man is the man who gave the order for that woman to be executed. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did.”
Adams is challenged on the BBC’s Storyville programme over whether he was a senior Provisionals commander in Belfast at the time McConville was abducted, just before Christmas 1972. “That’s not true,” Adams replies, adding that he has not “shirked” his own responsibilities in the conflict. The Sinn Féin leader has always insisted that he was never in the IRA.
In response to the tape, Adams, who is the Sinn Féin member for Louth in the Irish parliament, accuses his former friend of lying. “Brendan is telling lies,” Adams tells the programme. He adds: “I had no act or part to play in the abduction, killing or burial of Jean McConville or any of the others.”
An expert forensic detective tells the joint BBC Northern Ireland-RTE production that the IRA sometimes weighed bodies down with heavy stones to ensure that the corpses would not surface if the bogs they were buried in ever dried up.
Storyville reveals that the first of the “disappeared” to be found back in 1999, north Belfast man Eamon Molloy, had received the last rites from a Catholic priest. The priest saw Molloy tied naked to a bed and asked his captors if any of them had rosary beads that their prisoner could hold when he was to be shot.
Security sources in the Republic told the Observer last week that up to four additional men who were “disappeared” by the IRA have not yet been identified by the organisation set up to find the Troubles’ missing victims. The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) has so far found eight of the “disappeared”, including McConville, but seven on their official list are still unaccounted for.
A spokesman for the ICLVR, Geoff Knupfer, said: “At this moment there is no information to suggest there is any addition to the list.” However, security sources insist that at least four IRA victims were buried in secret. The film is to be broadcast on BBC4, BBC Northern Ireland and RTE on Tuesday.
It includes a reading of the late Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘The Bog Queen’, which the Nobel laureate agreed could be used in the programme to remember the plight of the “disappeared”.
17 May 2012
Columba McVeigh was murdered by the IRA in 1975
The latest search for Columba McVeigh, one of the so-called Disappeared, in Bragan, Monaghan, is due to end soon.
The 19 year old from Donaghmore in County Tyrone, was kidnapped and killed by the IRA in 1975. His body has never been recovered.
In a statement, the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) said their search was drawing to a close without success.
It was the fourth in a series of searches for Mr McVeigh.
Search teams concentrated on an area which was planted with trees shortly before his murder.
Three previous searches have been carried out in the area, near Emyvale.
The disappeared are those who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by republicans during the Troubles.
Geoff Knupfer, head of the investigations team at the commission, said they had had no success to date.
“We set out to undertake a very specific programme of work and we have completed that work, sadly without finding the remains we were looking for,” he said.
“It is important to stress that the commission is information led. If we have information, we will act on it. We do not go in for searching blindly.
“At the moment we have no information that would merit us starting a new search, we are always hopeful.”
Mr Knupfer said it was important to be realistic about the chances of finding the “disappeared”.
“We try to manage people’s expectations. A lot of these cases are 40 years old. It is literally like searching for a needle in a haystack.”
The latest search for Columba McVeigh began on Monday 23 April close to the border with counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.
In June last year, DNA tests were carried out on remains taken from a graveyard in Scotstown in County Monaghan. However, the results showed it was not Mr McVeigh.
Vera McVeigh, who campaigned tirelessly for the return of her son’s body, died in 2007 aged 82.
The bodies of eight of the Disappeared – Jean McConville, Eamon Molloy, John McClory, Brian McKinney, Danny McIlhone, Charlie Armstrong, Gerard Evans and Peter Wilson – have been found since 1999.
That was the year the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains was established in a treaty between the British and Irish governments.
Seven other victims have still not been found.
24 Apr 2012
THE FORENSIC scientist leading the search in Co Monaghan for the remains of one of the Disappeared, Columba McVeigh, has appealed for anyone with even the most “trivial” information to come forward.
Geoff Knupfer, who in the 1980s was involved in the search for two of the victims of Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, yesterday began overseeing “painstaking work” to find the remains of Mr McVeigh, who was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1975.
Forestry workers last week cut down and cleared away trees at Bragan, Co Monaghan, where Mr McVeigh, who was 17 when he disappeared, may have been buried. Yesterday Mr Knupfer, chief investigator of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, led specialist workers as they began clearing away the tree roots in their efforts to find the remains of Mr McVeigh.
He said up to a dozen members of the IRA may have been involved in the abduction, interrogation, murder and burial of Mr McVeigh, who was from Donaghmore in Co Tyrone. He urged anyone with information to bring it to the commission.
“I would appeal to anyone with information, however trivial they may think it is, to bring it forward. That information may mean nothing to them but it might be the piece of information we are looking for,” he said.
The commission has searched the general Bragan bog site three times already, but now the trees have been cut down in a 100m by 100m area, this is the first time it has been able to search this specific location. When Mr McVeigh was murdered the area would have been covered in saplings.
Mr Knupfer said the work would take a number of weeks. “This is a complex process. We have to be very careful in digging the ground and clearing away all the tree roots. It’s a case of fingers crossed that we will be successful this time,” he said.
In the mid-1980s, Mr Knupfer carried out searches for two of the victims of Brady and Hindley, who in the early 1960s killed five children aged between 10 and 17 in the so-called Moors murders.
He was successful in recovering the remains of victim Pauline Reade. The remains of Keith Bennett were not found.
So far the remains of 10 of the 17 Disappeared victims of the Troubles, most of whom were murdered by the IRA, have been recovered. The confidential telephone for anyone with information is 00800-555 8550.
23 Apr 2012
Investigators searching Bragan Bog in Monaghan for the remains of Columba McVeigh now wear high-visibility rainwear rather than white forensic suits – part of the effort to let those with information know they can pass it on without fear of prosecution (Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick)
INTERVIEW: LAST WEEK forestry workers cut down hundreds of densely planted trees on a disused bog in a remote upland in Co Monaghan.
This morning a team of forensic archaeologists will begin to supervise the painstaking removal, one by one, of their roots. What Geoff Knupfer calls “refined information” has led to a new search in Bragan, Co Monaghan, for the remains of Columba McVeigh.
Knupfer, chief investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, points out that back in 1975, when an IRA gang is believed to have buried the body of the 19-year-old Tyrone man here, the trees in this plantation – some of them now 30 metres tall and never thinned out – would have been small saplings. The ground, meanwhile, would have been easy to dig.
For Knupfer’s team, the dig is anything but easy and, whereas the IRA required no evidence whatsoever on which to base its choice of McVeigh for execution and Disappearance, the process of trying to recover his body is complex and intricate, relying on the expertise of forensic scientists, mappers, researchers, civil engineers, detectives, imagery analysts, forensic archaeologists, geophysicists and dog handlers. It starts with the taking of DNA samples from the closest surviving relatives of the victim.
The IRA needed a large team, too. People to set the victims up, to kidnap them, drive them across the Border into the Republic, provide a safe place in which to interrogate them, and someone to murder them.
It needed people to reconnoitre, select a burial place, dig the grave, bring the body, dump it, take the operatives away, destroy the evidence and intimidate those who might consider informing the authorities. Many of those involved will have been citizens of the Republic, where all but one of those known to have been Disappeared are presumed buried.
The IRA prolonged the agony for the families of the Disappeared by denying involvement for decades. McVeigh’s mother, the late Vera McVeigh, spent 23 years longing to hear from her son before learning from a newspaper story he had been Disappeared in 1975.
The commission takes care not to compound the trauma and has a liaison officer, Jon Hill. “We ensure that no family ever finds out about anything we do other than from us,” says Knupfer. “We also try to manage expectations.”
The families involved have had their hopes dashed before.
Knupfer, a Yorkshire man who has 30 years’ experience as a detective and has also worked in academia, has pioneered the use of forensic archaeology in the UK. He was invited to review the work of the commission in 2004, when the flow of information it had initially received had all but dried up. It was he who advised “going on the offensive” to find remains.
“We need every fragment of information we can get,” he says.
“We need to hear from people who don’t even think that what they saw or heard is of any significance.”
In the 1980s, Knupfer had worked on the aftermath of the Moors murders. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley had been jailed for abducting and murdering six children and disposing of their bodies on the vast Yorkshire Moors.
“We were searching a peat bog and we realised that parts of it could be seen from a road, so I asked Hindley whether it was daytime or night time when they buried the body there,” says Knupfer. “She said, ‘It was dusk, I could see the outline of the hills across the valley.’ It was a classic case of a throwaway remark providing the breakthrough.
“We went back to the site and realised that there were only a few spots which had that view.”
Shortly afterwards, they recovered the body of 16-year-old Pauline Reade.
“In one of our searches in Ireland, we were able to dramatically narrow down the area when a witness to a burial made a chance remark about where he was picked up afterwards,” says Knupfer. “We need to have sites that shout at us.”
Early searches by the Garda for the bodies of the Disappeared were characterised by the bulldozing of large tracts of land – Sir Kenneth Bloomfield told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday agreement last month the equivalent of 17 Croke Park pitches had been excavated since 1999.
Knupfer refuses to be drawn on the question of whether vital clues and even remains may have been destroyed. “Technologies are constantly being refined,” he says. “Our approach now is to begin with the non-invasive and only then move to the invasive.”
Invasive means using ground- penetrating radar, magnetometry and the slow sifting of earth, centimetre by centimetre. Knupfer is also diplomatic about the dearth of records of RUC and Garda investigations.
The area now being searched at Bragan Bog is, Knupfer says, “pristine”. Those searching it are dressed in high-visibility rainwear rather than white forensic suits. It is all part of the effort to drive home to those with information that they can give it to the commission without fear of exposure or prosecution.
“Our sole purpose is the recovery and repatriation of bodies. We are not looking for evidence. Nothing we hear, nothing we find will end up being used in a court case,” says Knupfer. “None of our records will end up in Boston College, either.”
There is considerable international interest in the commission. “The Ireland model is unique in many ways,” says Knupfer. “There is the co-operation between the two governments, the parallel legislation, the effective amnesty – it is a half-way house to a truth commission.”
To date, nine bodies have been recovered, including seven of the Disappeared. “There is excitement and elation when we find a body,” says Knupfer. “But it is tinged with sadness. This is someone’s loved one.”
Seven families are still waiting, and Knupfer says the list of the Disappeared could grow. “It would be naive to think there aren’t others, in loyalist or republican circles,” he says.
However, after Bragan, the commission has no information with the potential to lead to any new searches.
It can be contacted on freephone 00-800555-85500 or at PO Box 10827, Dublin 2.
‘They might as well have taken my mother too. She was never right after that’
EUGENE McVEIGH is being careful not to let his hopes get too high as a new search begins for the remains of his younger brother, Columba.
“This has been wound up and wound down a number of times over the years. You get used to that. It isn’t quite as emotionally draining each time,” he says. “When I think back to my parents, though, and how they lived in a kind of limbo with this tragedy hanging over them . . .”
His father died in 1997, his mother 10 years later. Columba’s name is carved on their gravestone.
Seán Megraw says he got an awful shock when he learned that his brother Brendan’s body was probably buried only about 40 miles from his own home near Dublin. “People here in the South don’t seem to take it on board. Whenever anything about the North comes up, their attention span is very short. In other countries this sort of thing is regarded as a war crime – here it is just swept under the carpet.”
Brendan was 22 and had been married for just a year when the IRA took him. His wife was pregnant. The family suspects he was murdered because he made a statement to the RUC after witnessing a shooting in west Belfast.
The IRA denied involvement in his disappearance until the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains was set up. “Fr Alex Reid came and told us the body was in Oristown. The guards dug there for weeks with a big digger. We felt they hadn’t much experience and they should bring in expertise. After we met the minister for justice, Geoff [Knupfer] was brought in and and that has made a big difference.”
When their mother died in 2002, the family put Brendan’s name on the family gravestone.
Sandra Peake is chief executive of the victims’ group, Wave, which supports the Families of the Disappeared group. “Brian McKinney’s mother, Margaret, came to me in 1995 and introduced me to some of the families and we started to organise things. The turning point was in 1998 when Margaret went to the White House and met the president Clinton. Within a year, she had met Gerry Adams and the commission was set up.”
The group allows people to talk “without fear”, says Ms Peake. Each year there is a Mass on Palm Sunday and, on All Souls Day in November, they lay a black wreath on the steps at Stormont.
“The wreath contains a white lily representing those still missing. It has gone down to seven now. As the circle gets smaller, it gets harder. It is bittersweet when someone is found. Mrs McKee was the last of the mothers to die, last November.”
Kevin McKee was just 16 when he was taken. His sister, Philomena, was nine. “They might as well have taken my mother too,” she says. “She was never right after that. She was just in limbo. We didn’t know what was happening – we thought she was just being cruel. We were sent from pillar to post while she was in and out of hospital with nervous breakdowns. Life was just so hard.
“After the peace process started they came and told her they were going to get the body. She got the house all decorated and ready and then when he wasn’t found, she just broke down completely. She went into hospital and never came out again. We are only now understanding what she went through. It is rotten. You wonder, did they torture him? We’ve been to the bog where they think he is. It is total heartache when you stand on that ground, and you walk up a path and think, is this where he walked his last steps?”
The disappeared: Who they were
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains was set up under a British-Irish treaty in 1999 to facilitate the recovery of the bodies of those who were “Disappeared” – abducted and murdered – by proscribed organisations before the signing of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. In 1999, the IRA admitted disappearing nine people in the North and burying them in the Republic.
Those known to be among the Disappeared are all victims of republican paramilitaries. All but one of the seven still missing are believed to be buried in the Republic.
Kevin McKee and Séamus Wright disappeared in 1972. Their bodies are believed to be in Co Meath. Joe Lynskey disappeared in 1972 and is still missing. Jean McConville was abducted in 1972. Her body was found in 2003. Peter Wilson disappeared in 1973. His body was recovered in 2010 in Co Antrim – the only body found in the North. Eamon Molloy disappeared in 1975. His body was recovered in 1999.
Columba McVeigh also disappeared in 1975. His body is believed to be in Co Monaghan. Robert Nairac disappeared in 1977. His body is believed to be in Co Louth. Brendan Megraw disappeared in 1978. His body is believed to be in Co Meath. Brian McKinney and John McClory were taken in 1979. Their bodies were recovered in 1999. Eugene Simons disappeared in 1980. His body was recovered in 1984. Séamus Ruddy disappeared in 1985 and is believed to be buried in France. Danny McIlhone disappeared in 1981. His body was recovered in 2008.
Gerry Evans disappeared in 1979 and Charlie Armstrong in 1981. Their bodies were recovered in 2010. Gareth O’Connor disappeared in 2003 and his body was found in 2005.
The commission is headed by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and Frank Murray, and funded by the British and Irish governments, which last year pledged to allow it to continue its work. Those who give it information can do so confidentially and will not in any circumstances be liable to prosecution, nor will its records ever be made available to third parties, including police.
17 Apt 2012
ASSEMBLY SKETCH: Unionist MLAs anxious to put pressure on senior Sinn Féin figures Gerry Adams and Mitchel McLaughlin, writes GERRY MORIARTY
THE ISSUE of the “disappeared” isn’t going away. It was the focus again yesterday of Northern Assembly members when they returned to the Stormont chamber after the Easter break, with some unionist MLAs anxious to put pressure on senior Sinn Féin figures Gerry Adams and Mitchel McLaughlin.
Two motions were discussed during the four hours from noon to 4pm that the Assembly sat – one from the SDLP calling on anyone with information about the seven bodies who have yet to be recovered to bring it the Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains; the other from the DUP pleading for further marking of the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to be done in a “solemn and dignified” manner.
The Titanic debate was a relaxed affair, with proper acknowledgment of the terrible loss of 1,517 lives 100 years ago together with mention of the tourist and economic benefits offered to Northern Ireland through remembering the Titanic.
BBC presenter Andrew Marr not unsurprisingly came in for criticism. Referring to the current Titanic overload Mr Marr described some of the events around the centenary of the sinking of the great ship as “sordid and tasteless and dull”.
Members too were keen to replay that well-worn line that the Titanic was fine when it left Belfast, and that it wasn’t any poor craftsmanship on the part of Harland and Wolff shipyard workers that caused it to sink – no, it was the iceberg.
But the debate on the disappeared was a much chillier business item. It’s an issue, obviously, that still causes great anxiety for the families of those abducted, murdered and disappeared during the Troubles, mostly by the IRA – but it’s also a subject that raises difficulties for the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and for the party generally.
Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice
party, wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to lay into Mr Adams.
He referred to the issue of the Boston College interviews and the attempts to compel the handing over to the PSNI of tapes dealing with the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast mother of 10 children Jean McConville.
Mr Allister said that Dolours Price, convicted of the 1973 Old Bailey bombing in London, in the tapes admitted driving Ms McConville to the place “where she was murdered and that she drove her as a member of a unit presided over by the current president of Sinn Féin”.
Mr Adams is now TD for Louth and no longer a member of the Assembly, and was therefore not in a position to respond. He has, however, regularly rejected allegations of involvement in her murder.
Neither did the Sinn Féin MLA for South Antrim Mitchel McLaughlin emerge unscathed. Unionist members reminded him how in a TV debate seven years ago he said the killing of Ms McConville was not a criminal act given the context of the Troubles and the claim that she was a British spy.
DUP MLA Lord Morrow and Mr Allister provided him with opportunities to retract the claim and admit her killing was indeed unlawful.
But Mr McLaughlin declined.
It was an issue that could be addressed “in the context of a process of truth recovery and in a process of genuine reconciliation”, he said. Other parties in the chamber were unimpressed and made their feelings known. And what about British security force “procuring murder” and “collusion with murder gangs”, Mr McMcLaughlin was moved to ask.
Lord Morrow seemed to think that eventually more may be forthcoming from Sinn Féin.
“I think he still has to deal with the issue, but I will give him his time. He seems to need more space on this one,” he said.
By David Young
April 16 2012
THE IRA’s practice of secretly burying some of its victims during the Troubles was wrong and unjust, a senior Sinn Fein figure has told the Assembly.
Mitchel McLaughlin said the Provisionals should also have come clean with information on the whereabouts of the so-called Disappeared long ago.
But the South Antrim MLA’s remarks drew challenges from unionists to retract a claim he made in 2005 that the killing of the one of the victims, Jean McConville, was not a criminal act.
Mr McLaughlin said he would deal with that issue in the context of a full truth recovery process in the region.
The exchanges took place during a debate tabled by the SDLP on the ongoing efforts by an independent commission to locate the seven bodies still to be found of the 17 Disappeared. The majority were killed by the IRA.
“I support the right of the families to have redress after so many years of injustice piled on injustice and I think this policy was wrong. It was wrong then and it is wrong now,” said Mr McLaughlin.
In reply to a subsequent question from Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, the Sinn Fein member confirmed his belief that secretly burying victims was an official policy of the IRA at the time. He said it was one that first emerged in Ireland in the 19th century.
“It was indeed a practice and a policy that was carried forward,” he said.
“The IRA themselves, and they stated this publicly, came to recognise the injustice of this policy which they themselves, in terms of this generation, inherited and they ended it.
“What I regret and what I think we all should regret is, as well as ending the practice and policy, they should also at that time should have taken steps to identify where the remains were buried.
“I say it was an injustice then and it is an injustice now.”
Traditional Unionist leader Jim Allister then quizzed Mr McLaughlin on his past remarks on Mrs McConville, a west Belfast mother of 10 shot dead and buried by the IRA on the belief she was a British spy.
The allegation she worked for the security services was subsequently rejected by a Police Ombudsman investigation. Mrs McConville`s body was found on a beach in the Irish Republic in 2003.
“Would the member then like to withdraw the statement that he made in January 2005 that the killing of Jean McConville was not a criminal act?” asked Mr Allister.
“Or is it still the position of Sinn Fein that the vile murder of Jean McConville was in some way justified because if it was not a criminal act and if that`s the member’s stance, then so much of what he says today has no credibility.”
Mr McLaughlin responded: “I have to reply in this way: I will address that issue in the context of a process of truth recovery and in a process of genuine reconciliation.
“That would mean that I could expect from all sections around this room, people to acknowledge the role of the British security services in procuring murder, in procuring collision with murder gangs.”
He added: “I think we do need to have a truth recovery process in which all will come to that table with all of the available information, not this partisan approach because that means we will ask only some questions and we will only end up with some of the answers.”
But the Sinn Fein representative was again challenged by DUP MLA Lord Morrow to explain his comments in 2005.
“I will give way to him if he wants to put the record straight here once and for all in relation to the death of Jean McConville and what he said at that particular time,” said Lord Morrow.
Mr McLaughlin said that on the issue of the Disappeared he said the same thing in 2005 and he had done today: that those with information on the remains should bring it forward.
“So my position has been consistent,” he said.
The motion tabled by the SDLP`s Dominic Bradley urged anyone with information on the remaining bodies to make it available to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains.
“It was people from Northern Ireland and the Republic who were responsible and involved in all of the disappearances,” he said.
“They are the people who have the vital information and they are the people who can bring the suffering of the families to an end.”
The Newry and Armagh MLA said he wanted to place on record his thanks to those who have come forward and given information to the commission.
“Information is the key to progress and I want to take this opportunity to renew the call for information in relation to those victims whose remains have not yet been recovered,” he said.
“Now is the time for those who have said nothing or who have not said enough to come forward and speak and give information.
“That is why I ask all members of this house to join me in appealing to anyone who has any piece of information whatsoever that may be of help to the independent commission to bring that information forward by whatever channel they feel comfortable with, either directly to the commission, a member of the clergy, through the media, through a public representative, whatever means they desire.”
He added: “The families ask not for revenge, not for prosecution, not for the where, why and how or even for the truth, to which they are rightly entitled, but simply for information to help locate the remains of their loved ones so they can afford them a Christian burial so that they and the community in which they grew up can say goodbye and have a place, a grave where they can be remembered, where they may rest in peace and have the fact that they lived on his earth marked publicly.”
Fresh information obtained from the IRA will lead to a new dig for one of the so-called Disappeared within a matter of weeks.
17 Feb 2012
UTV can reveal that the searches are aimed at finding the remains of teenager Columba McVeigh and will resume in April.
The 17-year-old from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone was abducted and murdered by the IRA in October 1975.
The news comes one day after the commission set up to find those still buried in unmarked graves issued a further plea to the public for new information.
But UTV understands this development is based on new information from the IRA passed onto the Independent Commission For The Location Of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) last year.
Previous searches have taken place in Co Monaghan bogland for the teenager, but to avail.
Jon Hill, of ICLVR, told UTV the information was “credible” and said the commission remained “hopeful.”
“It’s been evaluated over a long period of time now. We wouldn’t be undertaking this action, the heartache it brings to families, and of course the expense, if we didn’t think there was a good chance of finding him.”
He added: “We are hopeful we will find him – we can’t guarantee it. There are no guarantees in this type of work, it’s a very difficult undertaking.
“These people have been missing for thirty- forty years. It’s not easy.”
To date, the remains of nine Disappeared have been found, seven still have to be found.
Brendan Megraw, aged 23, was last seen at his home in west Belfast in 1978.
His brother Kieran says he remains hopeful his sibling will be found.
“I am still hopeful, it’s a long time that we haven’t been able to manage to get his body back but everyday you are hoping that there will be some information or something will come up that the body would be brought back to Belfast.
“Within the IRA or anyone who is no longer in the Republican movement to come forward with the information.”
Sinn Féin say the IRA has cooperated fully with the commission and that efforts must continue to find the rest of the Disappeared.
They have appealed for anyone with information to bring it forward.
On Thursday, the commission admitted they had ran out of fresh clues.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and Frank Murray, ICLVR’s Commissioners, described their investigations as “complicated and difficult” and said that information from the public is “absolutely vital” to their work.
February 16 2012
A SENIOR Sinn Fein leader has admitted that the IRA perpetrated a “massive injustice” on victims it abducted, murdered and secretly buried during the Troubles.
Pat Doherty, MP and MLA for West Tyrone, urged ex-paramilitaries to give up any information about the whereabouts of makeshift graves for the remaining so-called Disappeared.
“There has been a massive injustice committed by republican forces in the North during the conflict,” the former Sinn Fein vice-president said.
“The benefit that can be done to resolve it, needs to be done.”
The call swiftly followed a warning by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) that it has now run out of clues in its search for seven bodies yet to be found.
Frank Murray, who heads up the ICLVR along with Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, signalled its work could come to a halt next month because of a lack of new information.
“Are we optimistic for the future? I don’t know whether we can say with confidence that we are,” he said.
“We have one further search project to undertake – probably in April in Co Monaghan.
“But the harsh reality is, that after that we run out of road on information. We have no information to point us to where we might conduct further searches.”
Mr Murray said further details on the whereabouts of the remaining Disappeared was vital, if the commission was to continue.
“Without that we just run out of business, I’m afraid,” he said.
More than 52 acres of land – mostly bleak, barren and remote bogland – has been excavated so far by the commission, set up after the Good Friday Agreement.
That is the equivalent of 17 Croke Parks, said Sir Kenneth.
The lands were all meticulously mapped out and painstakingly searched using ground-breaking scientific methods.
Nine bodies have so far been recovered.
The remains of Joseph Lynskey, Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee, Columba McVeigh, Robert Nairac, Brendan Megraw and Seamus Ruddy have yet to be located.
Geoff Knupfer, the investigative scientist leading the search, acknowledged “enormous support” from the IRA.
But he said there were individuals yet to come forward.
Some of those involved in the disappearances, many stretching back to the 1970s, were now in the US and may be afraid their family, friends and neighbours would find out about their past, he said.
“They may be pillars of society – their families might not know what they did in their youth,” he added.
But he insisted all information passed to the commission was confidential and could not be used for prosecutions in any jurisdiction.
Mr Knupfer, who helped find the bodies of the victims of Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, said several people were involved in every disappearance investigated.
They were all major logistical operations, he added.
Sir Kenneth stressed that a flurry of recent discoveries, compared to earlier years, meant it was impossible to write off more progress, if more clues were passed on.
The Irish government alone has spent four million euro (£3.3 million) over the past six years on searches.
Both governments have made it clear there is no question of cutting back on resources, the ICLVR said before a parliamentary committee in Dublin.
Sinn Fein’s Sean Crowe told the committee he was uncomfortable with the commission’s presentation, which he said did not fully reflect the horror and terror victims went through, and the heartbreak of their families.