Northern Ireland police demand notes and video of IRA bomber’s claim that Sinn Fein president ordered widow’s murder
The Police Service of Northern Ireland wants to seize interview material from the Sunday Telegraph and American broadcaster CBS connected to an IRA bomber’s claim that Gerry Adams ordered one of the most notorious murders of the Troubles.
The Guardian has learned that the PSNI is seeking to obtain notes and video footage from the paper and the New York based television station in relation to Dolours Price’s allegation that the Sinn Fein president was in charge of a specialist IRA unit that “disappeared” and killed mother of 10 Jean McConville.
In the United States, the PSNI is already engaged in a lengthy legal battle soon to reach the US Supreme Court in its attempt to take tapes from Boston College that include Price’s testimony of her time in the IRA. The police want to use the Boston College interviews with IRA members with the material from the Sunday Telegraph and CBS as part of its investigation into the 1972 kidnapping and secret murder of the west Belfast widow.
An award winning journalist who set up the IRA and loyalist archive for Boston College said the PSNI’s latest move demonstrated that the police were “laying siege” to free, open journalism.
A PSNI spokeswoman said on Friday that the police were “pursuing all lines of inquiry in relation to the murder of Jean McConville.” The Guardian can reveal that this includes the most up to date interview with Dolours Price, the former Old Bailey bomber who know lives in North Dublin.
McConville was abducted from her home in the Divis Flats complex by an IRA unit just before Christmas 1972. The Provisional IRA accused her of being an informer who worked for the British Army – a charge her family has always disputed.
She became the most famous of 16 IRA victims known as the disappeared because after being interrogated and shot, their bodies were buried in secret locations mainly across the border in the Irish Republic. In her interview last month, Price claimed to be part of a highly secretive IRA unit called the Unknowns who were tasked with targeting suspected informers in the community, abducting them, killing them and burying them in covert locations.
Price also said that she took Jean McConville to her death across the border after she was dragged from her home at gunpoint in front of her children.
“I drove away Jean McConville. I don’t know who gave the instructions to execute her. Obviously it was decided between the General Headquarters staff and the people in Belfast. Gerry Adams would have been part of that negotiation as to what was to happen to her.
“I had a call one night and Adams was in a house down the Falls Road and she’d been arrested by Cumann [IRA’s female unit] women and held for a couple of days. She got into my car and as far as she was concerned she was being taken away by the Legion of Mary to a place of safety.
“It wasn’t my decision to disappear her, thank God. All I had to do was drive her from Belfast to Dundalk. I even got her fish and chips and cigarettes before I left her.”
Price was unrepentant about her alleged role in the disappearance and death of McConville. “You don’t deserve to die if you are an unpleasant person as she was but you do deserve to die if you are an informer, I do believe that. Particularly in a war, that is the Republican way,” she told the Sunday Telegraph.
CBS last night confirmed it had received a letter from the PSNI about the Price interview adding “we are looking into the issues raised in the letter.” The Sunday Telegraph declined to comment but it is understood the PSNI has been in contact with the paper.
The director of the Belfast Project for Boston College Ed Moloney said he sincerely hoped both CBS and the Sunday Telegraph would resist police attempts to subpoena their material. “Clearly this case is developing into a major assault on privacy. Not content with assailing academic rights, the PSNI are now set to lay siege to the media as well. Where will this stop?” he said.
Moloney added: “It is clear that the PSNI is substituting the efforts of journalists for basic detective work.”
Sinn Fein and even some of its opponents in the Irish media have claimed Price is motivated by a long running enmity towards Adams, and is using the McConville murder to damage him and his party. Adams has strenuously denied not only involvement in the McConville disappearance and murder but of ever being involved in the IRA.
Price does admit that she is engaged in a “score settling” operation against Adams because he denies his alleged IRA past. Her critics, including some commentators in the Dublin press who have traditionally opposed the IRA, claim she is trying to damage the peace process in her feud with Adams.
But Seamus McKendry, Jean McConville’s son-in-law and long time campaigner for the “disappeared”, told the Guardian he welcomed the news that the PSNI wanted to seize the Sunday Telegraph and CBS material relating to Price’s latest allegations.
“Helen [Jean McConville’s oldest daughter] and I would be very much in favour of this move by the police. Every piece of the jigsaw is important in terms of the police building a case on Jean’s murder. So just as we have always supported the PSNI in their bid to get the Boston College tapes we think it is entirely justified that they are able to pore over the interviews the paper and the broadcaster carried out,’ he said.
McKendry also called on the Garda Siochána to arrest Dolours Price following her claims in the Sunday Telegraph and on CBS. “She is living openly in Malahide, north Dublin, so I don’t see why the Garda cannot arrest and question her about what she said in her very own words. I was at Jean’s inquest and all the evidence pointed to her being shot dead in County Louth in the Irish Republic, which means the crime was committed in the Garda’s jurisdiction. So it’s up to the Garda to question her,” he added.
The IRA only admitted in 1999 that it had been behind Jean McConville’s disappearance and murder. Republicans had previously spread the false story across west Belfast that the widow had abandoned her 10 children – many of whom were later placed in care homes – and run off to England with a British soldier. Her remains were finally located in August 2003 at Templetown beach in County Louth.