A man charged over the murder of Jean McConville from Belfast more than 40 years ago is unfit to stand criminal trial, a judge has ruled.

Criminal proceedings against Ivor Bell were halted today using mental health legislation. Instead a non-criminal mechanism, commonly known as a trial of the facts, will take place.

Mr Bell has been charged with encouraging murder and endeavouring to persuade people to murder.

Both counts relate to the death of Mrs McConville in December 1972.

The evidence upon which the counts are founded was based on audio interviews said to have been conducted in Northern Ireland by researcher Anthony McIntyre and recorded as part of the Boston Tapes oral history archive.

Part of the audio material obtained by the PSNI includes interviews between Anthony McIntyre and "Z". The prosecution case is that Z is Mr Bell.

A statement on behalf of the judge said: "Mr Justice Colton, sitting on Wednesday in Belfast Crown Court, found Ivor Bell unfit to be tried in accordance with Article 49(4)1 of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

"The judge refused an application to stay the proceedings for abuse of process.

"He ordered the criminal trial shall not proceed further but that it shall be determined by a jury on such evidence as may be adduced by the prosecution, or adduced by a person appointed by the court under Article 49 to put the case for the defence whether it is satisfied as respects the counts on which the accused was to be tried that he did the act or made the admission charged against him."