Jean McConville (née Murray; 7 May 1934 – December 1972) was a
woman from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who was kidnapped and shot dead
by the Provisional IRA and secretly buried in
County Louth in the
Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland in 1972 after being accused by the IRA of passing
information to British forces.
In 1999, the IRA acknowledged that it had killed McConville and eight
others of the "Disappeared". It claimed she had been passing
information about republicans to the
British Army in exchange for
money and that a transmitter had been found in her apartment. A
report by the Police Ombudsman found no evidence for this or other
rumours. Before the Troubles, the IRA had a policy of killing
informers within its own ranks; however, from the start of the
conflict the term informer was also used for civilians who were
suspected of providing information on paramilitary organisations to
the security forces. Other
Irish republican and loyalist
paramilitaries also carried out such killings. As she was a widowed
mother of ten, the McConville killing was particularly controversial.
Her body was not found until 2003, and the crime has not been solved.
The Police Ombudsman found that the
Royal Ulster Constabulary
Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
did not begin to investigate the disappearance properly until 1995.
2.1 Police Ombudsman's report
2.2 PSNI investigation and
Boston College tapes
2.3 2014 arrests
3 See also
5 External links
Jean Murray was born on 7 May 1934 to a Protestant family in East
Belfast but converted after marrying Arthur McConville, a Catholic
British Army soldier, with whom she had ten children. After
being intimidated out of a Protestant district by loyalists in 1969,
the McConville family moved to West Belfast's
Divis Flats in the Lower
Falls Road. Arthur died from cancer in January 1972.
At the time of her death, Jean McConville lived at 1A St Jude's Walk,
which was part of the
Divis Flats complex. This was an IRA
stronghold, from which attacks were regularly launched against the
British Army and RUC. Since the death of her husband, she had been
raising their ten children, who were aged between six and twenty.
Their son Robbie was a member of the 'Official' IRA and was interned
Long Kesh at the time of her death; he would defect to the Irish
National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1974.
In the months leading up to her death, tension and suspicion grew
between McConville and her neighbours. One night shortly before
her disappearance, she was allegedly attacked after leaving a bingo
hall and warned to stop giving information to the British Army.
According to police records, on 29 November 1972 a
British Army unit
found a distressed woman wandering in the street. She told them her
name was McConville and that she had been attacked and warned to stop
informing. One of McConville's children claimed she was kidnapped
the night after this incident, but others gave the date of the
kidnapping as 7 December.
On the night of her disappearance, four young women took McConville
from her home at gunpoint, and she was driven to an unknown
Dolours Price admitted that she was one of those involved in
driving her across the border. McConville was killed by a gunshot
to the back of the head, there was no evidence of any other injuries
to her body. Her body was secretly buried across the border on
Shellinghill Beach (also known as Templetown Beach) on the Cooley
Peninsula in the north of County Louth, about 50 miles from her home.
The place of her death is uncertain.
Although no group admitted responsibility for her disappearance, there
were rumours that the IRA had killed her for being an informer.
Another rumour is that she was killed because neighbours claimed they
saw her helping a badly wounded British soldier outside her home;
however, there is no record of such an incident. McConville's
children say they recall her helping a wounded British soldier some
time before their father died in January 1972. In a 2014 interview
published in the Sunday Life, former veteran
Irish republican Evelyn
Gilroy claimed the person who had tended to the soldier was her
The IRA did not admit involvement until after the signing of the Good
Friday Agreement. It claimed she was killed because she was passing
information about republicans to the British Army. Former IRA member
Brendan Hughes claimed the IRA had searched her flat some time before
her death and found a radio transmitter, which they confiscated.
He and other former republicans interrogated her and claimed she
British Army was paying her for information about
republicans. Hughes claims that, because of her circumstances, they
let her go with a warning. However, he claims when the IRA found she
had resumed working for the British Army, it decided to "execute"
Usually the bodies of informers were left in public as a warning, but
the IRA secretly buried McConville, apparently because she was a
widowed mother-of-ten. The IRA had first done this two months earlier,
when it killed and buried two IRA members who were found to be working
undercover for the British
Military Reaction Force (MRF).
After her disappearance, McConville's seven youngest children,
including six-year-old twins, survived on their own in the flat, cared
for by their 15-year-old sister Helen. After three weeks, the
hungry family was visited by a stranger, who gave them Jean's purse,
with 52 pence and her three rings in it.
On 16 January 1973, the story of the abduction appeared on the front
page of the
Belfast Telegraph, under the headline "Snatched mother
missing a month". The following day, the children were interviewed
BBC television programme Scene Around Six. The children
reported to the social services, and were immediately brought into
local council care. The family was forcibly split up by social
services. Among the consequences of the killing, Jean's orphaned
son Billy was sent to De La Salle Boys' Home, Rubane House, Kircubbin,
County Down, notorious for child abuse; he testified in 2014 to the
Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, describing
repeated sexual and physical abuse, and starvation, saying "Christians
looking after young boys – maybe they were Christians, but to me
they were devils disguised in that uniform."
Within two days of her kidnapping, one of her sons reported the
incident to the
Royal Ulster Constabulary
Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army.
However, the Police Ombudsman did not find any trace of an
investigation into the kidnapping during the 1970s or 1980s. An
officer told the Ombudsman that CID investigations in that area of
Belfast at that time were "restricted to the most serious cases".
On 2 January 1973, the RUC received two pieces of information stating:
"it is rumoured that Jean McConville had been abducted by the [IRA]
because she is an informer".
In March 1973, information was received from the British Army, saying
the kidnapping was an elaborate hoax and that McConville had left of
her own free will. As a result, the RUC refused to accept that
McConville was missing, preferring to believe an anonymous tip that
she had absconded with a British soldier. The first investigation
into her kidnapping appears to have taken place in 1995, when a team
of RUC detectives was established to review the cases of all those who
were thought to have been kidnapped during the conflict.
In 1999, the IRA gave information on the whereabouts of her body.
This prompted a prolonged search, co-ordinated by the Garda
Síochána, the Irish police service, but no body was found. On the
night of 26 August 2003, a storm washed away part of the embankment
supporting the west side of Shellinghill Beach car park, near the site
of previous searches. This exposed the body. On 27 August, it
was found by passersby while they were walking on Shellinghill Beach
(also known as Templetown Beach) in
County Louth at the eastern tip of
the Cooley Peninsula. McConville was subsequently reburied beside
her husband Arthur in Holy Trinity Graveyard in Lisburn.
Police Ombudsman's report
In April 2004 the inquest into McConville's death returned a verdict
of unlawful killing.
In 2006 the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan,
published a report about the police’s investigation of the murder.
It concluded that the RUC did not investigate the murder until 1995,
when it carried out a minor investigation. It found no evidence
that she had been an informer, but recommended the British Government
go against its long-standing policy regarding informers and reveal
whether she was one. Journalist
Ed Moloney called for the British
Government to release war diaries relating to the
Divis Flats area at
the time. War diaries are usually released under the thirty-year rule,
but those relating to Divis at the time of McConville's death are
embargoed for almost ninety years.
The police have since apologised for its failure to investigate her
abduction. In January 2005,
Sinn Féin party chairman Mitchel
McLaughlin claimed that the killing of McConville was not a crime,
saying that she had been executed as a spy in a war situation.
This prompted Irish journalist
Fintan O'Toole to write a rebuttal,
arguing that the abduction and extrajudicial killing of McConville was
clearly a "war crime by all accepted national and international
standards". The IRA has since issued a general apology, saying it
"regrets the suffering of all the families whose loved ones were
killed and buried by the IRA".
PSNI investigation and
Boston College tapes
In August 2006, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern
Ireland (PSNI), Sir Hugh Orde, stated that he was not hopeful anyone
would be brought to justice over the murder, saying "[in] any case of
that age, it is highly unlikely that a successful prosecution could be
Boston College had launched an oral history project on the Troubles in
2001. It recorded interviews with republicans and loyalists about
their involvement in the conflict, on the understanding that the tapes
would not be released until after their deaths. Two of the
Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, both now
deceased, admitted they were involved in McConville's kidnapping.
Both became diehard opponents of the
Good Friday Agreement
Good Friday Agreement and Sinn
Féin's support of it. They saw
Sinn Féin president
Gerry Adams as a
traitor for negotiating the Agreement and persuading the IRA to end
In 2010, after Hughes's death, some of his statements were published
in the book Voices from the Grave. He claimed McConville had
admitted being an informer, and that Adams ordered her
disappearance. In a 2010 newspaper article, Price also claimed
McConville was an informer and that Adams ordered her
disappearance, which has been strenuously denied by Ed
Moloney. Price, who died in 2013, said she gave the interviews
as revenge against Adams. Former republican prisoner Evelyn
Gilroy, who lived near McConville, claimed Adams was an IRA commander
and the only person who could have ordered the killing.
Adams has denied any role in the death of McConville. He said "the
killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong
and a grievous injustice to her and her family".
In 2011, the PSNI began a legal bid to gain access to the tapes.
Acting on a request from the PSNI, the United States Justice
Department tried to force
Boston College to hand them over. Boston
College had promised those interviewed that the tapes would not be
released until after their deaths, and other interviewees said they
feared retribution if the tapes were released. Following a lengthy
court battle, the PSNI was given transcripts of interviews by Hughes
In March and April 2014, the PSNI arrested a number of people over the
kidnapping and killing of Jean McConville. Ivor Bell, former IRA Chief
of Staff, was arrested in March 2014. Shortly afterwards, he was
charged with aiding and abetting in her murder. In April, the
PSNI arrested three people who were teenagers at the time of the
kidnapping: a 56-year-old man and two women, aged 57 and 60. All were
released without charge.
Following Bell's arrest in March, there was media speculation that
police would want to question
Gerry Adams due to the claims made by
Hughes and Price. Adams maintained he was not involved, but had
his solicitor contact the PSNI to find whether they wanted to question
him. On 30 April, after being contacted by the PSNI, Adams
voluntarily arranged to be interviewed at Antrim PSNI Station. He was
arrested and questioned for four days before being released without
charge. A file was sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to
decide whether further action should be taken, but there was
"insufficient evidence" to charge him.
The arrest took place during an election campaign.
Sinn Féin claimed
that the timing of the arrest was politically motivated; an attempt to
harm the party's chances in the upcoming elections.
Alex Maskey said
it was evidence of a "political agenda [...] a negative agenda" by
elements of the PSNI.
Jean McConville's family had campaigned for the arrest of Adams over
the murder. Her son Michael said "Me and the rest of my brothers
and sisters are just glad to see the PSNI doing their job. We didn't
think it would ever take place [Mr Adams' arrest], but we are quite
glad that it is taking place." In a later interview on the Today
BBC Radio 4, he stated that he knew the names of those
who had abducted and killed his mother, but that: "I wouldn't tell the
police [PSNI]. If I told the police now a thing, me or one of my
family members or one of my children would get shot by those [IRA]
people. It's terrible that we know those people and we can't bring
them to justice."
Disappeared (Northern Ireland)
Internal Security Unit
Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains
Murder of Thomas Oliver
^ "Jean McConville's daughter 'will give names'". RTÉ News. 2 May
2014; accessed 17 May 2014.
^ a b c d e f McKittrick, David (2001), Lost Lives: The Stories of the
Men, Women and Children who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland
Troubles. Random House. p. 301
^ "Jean McConville:
Ivor Bell to be prosecuted for aiding murder", BBC
News, 4 June 2015
^ "Jean McConville: The Disappeared mother-of-ten",
BBC News, 1 May
^ Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. New York: W.W.
Norton. p. 123. ISBN 0-393-05194-3.
^ "Jean McConville murder: Woman released pending PPS report". BBC
News. 10 April 2014.
^ Melaugh, Martin. Killings of Alleged Informers, cain.ulst.ac.uk;
accessed 5 May 2014.
^ Police Ombudsman: Report (2006) into complaint by James and Michael
McConville regarding the police investigation into the abduction and
murder of their mother, Mrs Jean McConville (Page 3), cain.ulst.ac.uk;
accessed 7 MAy 2014.
^ David McKittrick. The London Independent. 25 September 2003
^ Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.2
^ Hanley & Millar, B&S (2009). The Lost Revolution: The story
of the Official IRA and the Workers Party. Ireland: Penguin Ireland.
p. 285. ISBN 978-1-84488-120-8.
^ a b c d e f g Amanda Foreman (4 December 2010). "Sinn Fein should
never be able to escape Jean McConville's ghost". The Guardian.
Retrieved 30 April 2014.
^ a b c Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.4
^ a b Graham, Bob (23 September 2012). "IRA bomber says Gerry Adams
sanctioned mainland bombing campaign". The Daily Telegraph. London,
^ "Tests confirm identity of IRA victim McConville". Irish
Independent. 21 October 2003. Retrieved 23 June 2016. The DNA tests
were carried out in London after an earlier post-mortem examination at
the Louth Co Hospital had concluded that Mrs McConville had been shot
once in the back of the head. It ruled out suggestions that she had
been mutilated and tortured before being murdered.
^ "McConville son says family endured 31 years of 'hell'". Irish
Times. 5 April 2004. Retrieved 23 June 2016. Dr Marie Cassidy, the
State Pathologist, told the inquest Mrs McConville died from a single
gunshot wound to the back of the head. A flattened .22 calibre lead
bullet was found in her nasal passage during post-mortem. Dr Cassidy
said there was no pathological evidence to suggest if Mrs McConville
was kneeling when she was shot. She also said there was no evidence on
Mrs McConville's skeletal remains to suggest that she had suffered any
other injuries prior to her death.
^ Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.7
^ "My sister lived five doors from Jean McConville in Farset Walk in
the flats. Weeks before Jean was killed, a soldier was hit on the head
by a brick thrown by a local lad. My sister heard him crying. She was
a very soft, warm woman and she brought him into the hallway and gave
him a glass of water. "Her act of compassion didn't go down well with
some. 'Touts Out' and 'Soldier Lover' was painted on her door. The
incident was reported to the media. My sister gave an interview to
Downtown Radio about her act of mercy and the intimidation that
Gerry Adams now' - former republican prisoner breaks her
silence on IRA murder of Jean McConville, Evelyn Gilroy interview,
Sunday Life, 24 April 2014; accessed 5 May 2014.
^ a b c d Moloney, Ed. Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in
Ireland. Faber and Faber, 2010. pp. 128-129
^ McKittrick, Lost Lives, p. 275
^ Dillon, Martin (2012). The Dirty War. Random House. pp. 49-51
^ a b c d e f Police Ombudsman's report (2006), pp. 5-6
^ Bowcott, Owen (15 August 2006). "
Belfast police sorry for failing
woman's family". The Guardian. London, UK.
^ UTV:Jean McConville's child 'abused at Rubane', 6 November 2014
Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p. 10
^ No evidence for McConville agent claim: O'Loan; accessed 7 May 2014.
^ "Body found was McConville: Gardaí"; accessed 7 May 2014.
^ "No evidence for McConville as British agent claim: O'Loan". RTÉ
News. 7 July 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
^ "Jean McConville laid to rest after 31 years." Archived 14 January
2005 at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Adams 'at heart' of IRA's most shameful killing campaign",
guardian.co.uk; accessed 7 May 2014.
^ "Unlawful killing of McConville: verdict". RTÉ News. 5 April
^ Police Ombudsman's report (2006), p.12
^ "Could British war diaries help solve the Jean McConville murder?".
TheJournal.ie. 14 July 2013.
^ "Resignation call rejected".
^ Cusack, Jim (23 January 2005). "The murder of Jean McConville was a
crime, by any standards anywhere". Irish Independent.
^ P. O'Neill (8 July 2006). "Statement on the Abduction and Killing of
Mrs Jean McConville in December 1972". Irish Republican Publicity
Bureau, Dublin. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
^ IRA murder prosecution 'unlikely',
BBC website, 14 August 2006.
^ a b c d "What are the Boston tapes?".
BBC News, 1 May 2014.
^ a b Devlin Barret (9 January 2012). "IRA History Project Snags U.S.
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^ Taylor, Peter (1997). Provos The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury
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^ a b "
Gerry Adams ordered Jean McConville killing, says ex-IRA
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^ Documents at
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^ , thebrokenelbow.com; 14 November 2011.
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Belfast Telegraph, 24
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^ a b "
Sinn Féin leader
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BBC News. London. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 30 April
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^ Sinn Fein leader
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BBC News. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 5 May
"Statement on the Abduction and Killing of Mrs Jean McConville in
December 1972", (dated 8 July 2006) by P O’Neill, Irish Republican
Publicity Bureau, Dublin
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