Murder of Jean McConville

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Jean McConville née Murray (1934 – December 1972) was a woman from Northern Ireland who, in 1972, was abducted and murdered by the Provisional IRA and secretly buried on a beach in the Republic of Ireland. Witnesses to her abduction claimed that she had given aid to a wounded British soldier,[citation needed] but the IRA subsequently claimed [1] that she had been passing information of republican activities to British security forces. An investigation by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland rejected these claims. McConville's body was recovered in 2003. The crime has not been solved.

Biography and Family[edit]

Jean McConville was born into a Protestant family in East Belfast but converted to Catholicism after marrying Arthur McConville, a Catholic man and former member of the British Army[2] by whom she had ten children. After being intimidated out of a Protestant district, the McConville family moved to West Belfast's Divis Flats in the Lower Falls Road.[3] Arthur died in 1971. One of her sons, Robbie McConville, was imprisoned in Long Kesh at the time of her death for Official IRA activities before defecting to the newly formed Irish National Liberation Army in 1974.[4]


Jean McConville was abducted from her home in December 1972 by twelve IRA members, comprising both men and women, who brought her to an unknown location. There they killed her with a single bullet to the back of the head, allegedly making her kneel down before shooting her.[5] Among her abductors was Dolours Price, who has claimed that she did so on the orders of Gerry Adams.[6] Mrs McConville's body was buried secretly on a beach in County Louth, approximately 50 miles from her home. The IRA did not admit their involvement until over twenty years later, in 1999, when they passed information on the whereabouts of the body.[7] After a prolonged search, co-ordinated by the Garda Síochána – during which the search area and time involved was expanded by the Gardaí – the search was abandoned, as no body could be located in the area specified by the IRA.

On 27 August 2003, her body was accidentally found by members of the public while they were walking on Shelling Hill beach.[8] Jean McConville was then buried beside her husband Arthur in Holy Trinity graveyard, Lisburn, County Antrim.[9][10]


In the immediate aftermath of her death, Jean McConville's children were brought into local council care.[11]

Her children claim that McConville was killed for helping an injured British soldier. Some of her children recalled the incident, as did neighbours.[12][13] However an official investigation, indicated that, according to Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan: "Records show that the only terrorist attack on a soldier in the area around the time of Mrs McConville's abduction was on Private D who was shot in the thigh on December 15, 1972 – which was eight days after the abduction."[11] The IRA had always claimed that they had discovered she was passing information on local republicans to the security forces via a secret radio transmitter.[7] McConville's children reject this claim and have called on the IRA to clear her name. In April 2004 the inquest into McConville's death returned a verdict of unlawful killing.[14] In January 2005, Sinn Féin party chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, claimed that the killing of Jean McConville was not a criminal act, given the context of the Troubles and of the claim that she had been a British spy.[15]

McLaughlin's claim prompted the Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole to write a rebuttal, arguing that the abduction and extrajudicial killing of Mrs McConville was clearly a "warcrime by all accepted national and international standards".[16]


In July 2006, Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan stated after an investigation by her office that there is no evidence that Jean McConville had ever passed information on to the security forces.[11] O'Loan said she would give the family more details of the findings of her investigation in the near future and would make those details public.

O'Loan said it was not her normal role to confirm or deny the identity of people working as agents for the security services. "However, this situation is unique. Jean McConville left an orphaned family, the youngest of whom were six-year-old boys. The family have suffered extensively over the years, as we all know, and that suffering has only been made worse by allegations that their mother was an informant. As part of our investigation we have looked very extensively at all the intelligence available at the time. There is no evidence that Mrs. McConville gave information to the police, the military or the security service."[17]

In August 2006, Northern Ireland's chief constable Sir Hugh Orde said he is not hopeful anyone will be brought to account over the murder, saying that "[in] any case of that age, it is highly unlikely that a successful prosecution could be mounted."[18]

Despite the pessimistic statement, new evidence has emerged since then. A 2010 book included an account by Brendan Hughes, and Irish news reports around the same time included testimony from former IRA member Dolours Price. In addition, Boston College has been recording statements from people involved in the Troubles as part of an oral history project.[19] Acting on a request of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the United States Justice Department has tried to force Boston College to turn over recordings, especially those of Price. This legal dispute has launched a debate about journalistic freedom, as Boston College promised those interviewed that the tapes would not be released until after the person had died. Other former IRA members voiced a fear of retribution if the tapes were released. The legal proceedings are ongoing.[19] Price died in January 2013.[20]

Ivor Bell, former IRA Chief of Staff, was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland on 18 March 2014 for questioning in relation to the abduction and murder of McConville.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Police Ombudsman: Report into the complaint by James and Michael McConville regarding the police investigation into the abduction and murder of their mother Mrs Jean McConville, August 2006
  3. ^ David McKittrick The London Independent 25 September 2003
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b No evidence for McConville agent claim: O'Loan
  8. ^ "No evidence for McConville agent claim: O'Loan". RTÉ News. 7 July 2006. 
  9. ^ Jean McConville laid to rest after 31 years
  10. ^ Adams 'at heart' of IRA's most shameful killing campaign
  11. ^ a b c Bowcott, Owen (15 August 2006). "Belfast police sorry for failing woman's family". The Guardian (London). 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Unlawful killing of McConville: verdict". RTÉ News. 5 April 2004. 
  15. ^ Resignation call rejected"
  16. ^ Cusack, Jim (23 January 2005). "The murder of Jean McConville was a crime, by any standards anywhere". Irish Independent. 
  17. ^ Disappeared victim 'not informer' BBC website, 7 July 2006
  18. ^ IRA murder prosecution 'unlikely' BBC website, 14 August 2006
  19. ^ a b Devlin Barret (9 January 2012). "IRA History Project Snags U.S. School". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Man arrested in Northern Ireland over 1972 case of 'disappeared' mother" The Guardian, 18 March 2014

External links[edit]