"At the end of the day, she was the architect of her own downfall."
A chilling assessment of the plight of Jean McConville - the widowed mother-of-ten abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1972.
Veteran republican Ivor Bell never intended those words to be heard while he was live.
The former senior Belfast IRA member had been assured his interviews for an oral history project for Boston College would remain confidential until he died, or gave permission for them to be revealed.
That all changed at 2.15pm last Wednesday in courtroom 16 of Belfast's Laganside court complex.
Extracts from two interviews with a man referred to as 'Interviewee Z' were played.
The public prosecution service said that man was Ivor Bell, from Romoan Gardens in west Belfast.
The judge, Mr Justice O’Hara, said the evidence that Z was in fact Ivor Bell was "overwhelming".
The jury was told the 82-year-old could not be in court for any of the trial after he was deemed unfit to stand trial or give evidence as he has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.
The interviews dealt with the fate of Jean McConville.
Prosecution lawyers argued that the tapes proved Ivor Bell had solicited, encouraged or persuaded two other men to abduct, murder and secretly bury her.
Those men were Gerry Adams, who Ivor Bell claimed was OC (Officer Commanding) of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade at the time, and Pat McClure, whom he described as Intelligence Officer.
Gerry Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA. Pat McClure died in America a number of years ago.
In total, there were 33 minutes of recordings.
They focus on a meeting Bell alleged took place in the kitchen of a house on the Falls Road area of west Belfast on a Saturday night in December 1972.
Describing himself as Operations Officer of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA at the time, he said two others took part in the discussion: Gerry Adams and Pat McClure.
Five of Jean McConville’s children, and some family members, listened from the public gallery.
Susan, who was just seven when she was left an orphan, closed her eyes as the tape began to play.
Michael, who was 11 at the time, leant forward, elbows resting on his knees.
The others also listened intently to every word. The eldest in court, Archie, was 16 when his mother was killed. The youngest, Jim, was just six, while Thomas was eight.
The interviews were conducted by Anthony McInyre, a former IRA member who served 18 years in prison for murder.
He was described in court by a barrister representing Ivor Bell as a "hardline dissident" opposed to the peace process and "a man on a mission to discredit Gerry Adams".
"Now, I wasn't told that she had 10 kids and no husband. Had I been told that, I can't say for sure I would have said 'no don’t shoot her’. But I may have had second thoughts and say hold on what are we doing."
The interview extract began with Anthony McIntyre describing what happened to Jean McConville as "probably the most controversial disappearing act of the Troubles".
He told Bell he regarded the incident as "a war crime".
"There’s a couple of things need to be said before you, you make a comment," McIntyre said in his opening remarks.
"You yourself, have been wrongly accused as a matter of deviousness at the leader, leadership level of the IRA of being behind the disappearance, the killing and disappearance of Jean McConville.
"But it has been well recorded as a matter of record on these tapes elsewhere that in fact that you had nothing to do with this thing at all, you had nothing to do."
Ivor Bell responds that he was on "the Brigade staff" of the IRA in Belfast at the time.
Anthony McIntyre put it to Bell that he had been blamed for what happened "as a means to generate political cover to another person, Gerry Adams".
He added: "Gerry has been named so often as being the man behind it that it was imperative for him to spread the story within the IRA, that somebody, whether it be you or somebody else, but somebody other than him was responsible..."
Someone, McIntyre said, had been "deliberately trying to foster this image throughout people in Belfast, both at IRA level and at a former volunteer level, that you were responsible".
In response, Bell said: "Well, it wasn’t that I had no say in it. The fact is I was on the Brigade staff and there is collective responsibility and you can’t walk away from that, full stop."
Asked about the meeting at which he said the fate of Jean McConville was discussed, he said Pat McClure had laid out in detail information about Jean McConville’s alleged role as an informer.
Bell said: "I said, she’s a tout I said, 'the fact that she’s a woman shouldn’t save her.’ Now, I wasn’t told that she had ten kids and no husband. Had I been told that, I can’t say for sure I would have said ‘no don’t shoot her’. But I may have had second thoughts and say hold on what are we doing."
He said Gerry Adams told him he had asked a priest at St Peter’s Catholic Cathedral in west Belfast to get Mrs McConville out of town, but he had refused.
"So the priest could have saved, the priest in St Peter’s could have saved the life of Jean McConville?" McIntyre asks.
"Yeah," Bell replies. "I can’t remember his name, but Gerry had said they had asked the priest to get her out and the priest didn’t, said no."
He added: "I said that whatever is decided, I will back that up. I said I didn’t have a problem with shooting touts .... but then they said they were going to bury her. And I said no, I didn’t agree with that. And I didn’t agree with that. I said, if that happens it is done without my agreement. I said it defeats the entire purpose."
Anthony McIntyre then asked: "Who was the man pushing to bury her?"
Bell replied: "I couldn’t say it was Adams. I couldn’t say it was Pat. I think it was coming from the local unit."
He was asked about the attitude of Gerry Adams to burying her.
"Just that she was a tout. She should be shot," he said.
"His attitude to burying her was one, he I don’t, I wouldn’t say he would have liked it that much, right. But he didn’t say very much except that the priest had refused to get her out of town."
Questioned about who would have given the order to disappear Mrs McConville, he said he believed "the Belfast Brigade would have advocated it" and that "it went straight back to Gerry".
McIntyre asked what was the argument for disappearing people.
Bell replied: "If Gerry knew she had ten kids probably that was a good enough argument you know. But to me that was an argument not to shoot her, right. And that’s all I can really say because I can’t get inside Gerry’s head.
"I knew all the business went through Gerry and Pat. He didn’t come to me. I was Operations Officer on the Brigade staff.
"Having said that, I had no problem at all with shooting any tout, right, no problem whatsoever. Because we had no prisons., and one good tout is better than a regiment of soldiers’, said Michael Collins."
Anthony McIntyre then put it to him: "Some of the press and some authors have stated that - and other people who have been interviewed - have stated that Gerry gave the order for her killing and her disappearance. Is there a possibility that they are wrong?"
Bell replied: "The only thing I can say about that is this: Gerry would have passed the information back to GHQ; that one she was a tout; two she was taking money; and three that she had to be executed..."
Asked by McIntyre why he thought Gerry Adams was so sensitive about the affair, he said: "I think it was the fact that she had 10 kids, I think that’s the reason for the sensitivity."
He added: "If I had known she had 10 kids my opinion could have been different. But at the end of the day, she was the architect of her own downfall."
"Now in a conversation off tape....you, you had refreshed your memory, you thought about things, and you have since come to the conclusion that Gerry did give the order to disappear her"
The second extract began with Ivor Bell setting out his reasons for agreeing to give the interview.
He said it was for "historical accuracy", and because Gerry Adams "had lied about being in the IRA".
Bell said he had been angry that during the IRA’s investigation into what had happened to the Disappeared, Gerry Adams had sent a man Bell referred to as an "idiot" and a "clown" to ask him what had happened to "the woman in the flats" - Jean McConville.
The man told him Gerry Adams he said he had nothing to do with what happened.
Anthony McIntyre reveals that man was senior west Belfast republican Bobby Storey.
"I said he’s a liar, he was OC of Belfast," Bell said.
"I said, ‘the first I knew about the, that woman was, I was told she was being shot as a tout'."
He added: "Anything that happened while I was OC I will stand over, but I expect others to do the same."
Anthony McIntyre puts it to him: "It seems to me that Adams very much wanted to create an illusion within the IRA or an image within the IRA that you were responsible for the killing and disappearance of Jean McConville."
In response, Bell said it was widely known within the IRA there were three things he was opposed to:
- The sectarian killing of Protestants in revenge attacks
- Burying people - he believed informers should be shot and left in street as a warning
"I didn’t know she had 10 kids. If I had known she had 10 kids I think I would have said no don’t shoot her," he added.
"Because I would have seen the amount of bad propaganda that would have come out of it."
Anthony McIntyre suggests that since their previous interview, Ivor Bell had a change of mind about the extent of Gerry Adams’s role in the decision to disappear Jean McConville.
"The last time we, we discussed this on tape I think you were, you had a certain memory of this event that led us to believe that you were not sure that Gerry gave the order to disappear her," he states.
"Now in a conversation off tape....you, you had refreshed your memory, you thought about things, and you have since come to the conclusion that Gerry did give the order to disappear her."
Bell replies: "Yeah. Well, the, the thing is this, the - she was passed back to GHQ...now, I was told that they were going to disappear her, actually they would probably go and recommend it, right, that she disappear. I spoke against it, that, for, for, for the reasons I’ve stated. But if GHQ had have wanted they could have said ‘no’."
McIntyre asks: "But do you recalled at any point Pat or Gerry saying that she should be disappeared?"
"Yeah," he replies. "They said that they, they couldn’t, they couldn’t take the, the heat from, from the, from throwing her in the street."
McIntyre then says: "Now and so - and you have been very frank about this - you would have agreed with the execution of Jean McConville - but it was Adams, Gerry Adams and Pat McClure who were actually the people responsible for her disappearance?"
Bell replies: "They were, they would have been recommending her disappearance."