Jean McConville timeline: how a 1972 murder returned to haunt Gerry Adams

A US academic project by a former IRA prisoner threw open the decades-old case and led to Sinn Féin leader's arrest

November 1972: Police in Belfast find a woman disoriented and distressed after being abducted from a bingo hall, taken to a house in the Lower Falls area of the city and beaten by an IRA member who accused her of being an informer. She is Jean McConville, a Protestant woman who converted to Catholicism, a widow and mother of 10 children.

December 1972: A 12-strong IRA unit, of both men and women, burst into the McConville home in the Divis flats complex, west Belfast, and drag the 37-year-old away from her children. They never see her alive again. The IRA claims she has abandoned her children and run off with a British soldier to England. In fact that night she was bundled into a car driven by the future Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price and taken across the border where she is shot dead and buried in a secret grave.

August 1994: The IRA declares a ceasefire prompting Jean's oldest surviving daughter, Helen, and her husband, Seamus McKendry, to start a campaign demanding that the Provisional IRA finally admit it killed the widow and to identify where her remains are. Their battle inspires many other members of missing loved ones killed by the IRA to come forward, and the issue of the "Disappeared" finally emerges from years of silence.

1999: The IRA finally owns up to the murder of McConville but insists that she was an informer for the British army at the time – a charge which her family deny, and which is discredited by a later police ombudsman investigation.

2001: Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner turned writer and researcher, begins a series of interviews with former comrades for Boston College's Belfast Project. Participants speak candidly about their role in the IRA during the Troubles as long as the material is not released until they are dead.

27 August 2003: McConville's body is found by walkers on Shelling Hill beach in Co Louth, in the Republic.

2010: The first "voice from the grave" to be heard on the Belfast Project tapes is Brendan "The Dark" Hughes, an IRA icon and former hunger striker who makes the first public allegation that Gerry Adams as a fellow IRA commander ordered the death of Jean McConville and that she be secretly buried so that her death could not be blamed on the organisation.

2011: The Police Service of Northern Ireland begins what turns out to be a successful court battle in the US to seize other taped testimonies it believes are relevant to the McConville murder inquiry.

November 2013: A BBC/RTE documentary broadcasts further accusations against Adams being central to the orders that led to McConville's death. On the programme Adams denies the claims and states that he was never in the IRA.

March 2014: One of the IRA's negotiators with the British government in 1972, Ivor Bell, is arrested and charged with aiding and abetting the murder. The case against him rests upon taped testimonies for Boston College although Bell denies all the charges.

April 2014: The PSNI arrest Adams and question him about the McConville killing. Adams continues to insist he knew nothing about the murder and stresses again shortly before walking into Antrim police station that he was not even in the IRA.


Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gerry Adams offers to answer questions about 1972 murder of Jean McConville
Adams says he is willing to talk to police about murder, which he describes as a 'terrible injustice' in which he played no part

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

24, Mar, 2014 @7:38 PM

Article image
Jean McConville's family campaign against Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein leader, who denies involvement in 1972 murder, is standing in constituency where remains were found

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

20, Feb, 2011 @2:02 AM

Article image
Gerry Adams, the Jean McConville case and the role of Dolours Price
Price, angry with Sinn Féin's strategy and Adams' denial of IRA membership, broke the omertà surrounding the McConville case

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

01, May, 2014 @6:02 PM

Article image
Daughter of Jean McConville to sue Gerry Adams over murder
Sinn Féin leader faces lawsuit after IRA man's book claims he ordered notorious 1972 killing

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

29, Mar, 2010 @12:14 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams will not face charges over Jean McConville murder
Family of McConville ‘disappointed but not surprised’ over PPS decision as they vow to pursue Adams through civil courts

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

29, Sep, 2015 @4:03 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams welcomes 'MI5 offer' to disclose files on Pat Finucane murder
Sinn Féin president says existence of files on murder of Finucane, who was shot dead in 1989 by loyalist gunmen working with members of the security forces, is significant

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

13, Dec, 2010 @10:49 AM

Article image
Gerry Adams: I complained formally over police detention
Sinn Féin president calls on police ombudsman to review his detention, and denies any connection to Jean McConville murder

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

07, May, 2014 @8:22 PM

Article image
Jean McConville case continues to haunt Gerry Adams
The last thing Sinn Féin needs as Irish elections approach is for voters to be reminded of where its leaders have come from

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

01, May, 2014 @9:35 AM

Article image
Gerry Adams was interned illegally during Troubles, supreme court told
Wrong minister approved order, court hears during appeal to overturn convictions for escaping Maze prison in 70s

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

19, Nov, 2019 @1:30 PM

Article image
Gerry Adams ordered Jean McConville killing, says ex-IRA commander on tape

Recording of deceased Belfast IRA commander Brendan Hughes names Sinn Féin president as giving execution order

Henry McDonald in Belfast

03, Nov, 2013 @12:06 AM