Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was last night dramatically released without charge from a Northern Ireland police station after being questioned for 96 hours by officers investigating the murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville, who was snatched from her home in front of her children in 1972.
A file will be sent to prosecutors by detectives which means the ultimate decision whether to take action against the 65-year-old politician will be made by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) after reviewing evidence.
Mr Adams has always vehemently denied allegations levelled by former republican colleagues that he ordered the murder of the 37-year-old widow.
Following news of his impending release last night, police were forced to smuggle him out of a back entrance at Antrim police station while angry loyalist protesters waved Union flags and staged a sit-down protest.
Furious republicans, meanwhile, expressed criticism of his arrest and said that it had been politically motivated.
Speaking at a press conference last night, Mr Adams attacked the timing of events, saying police could have used discretion and not arrested him during an election campaign, when he offered to answer questions two months ago. He said there was a “malicious” and “sinister” campaign against him. Mr Adams added police did not need to use “pernicious, coercive legislation to deal with a legacy issue”.
He said he had undertaken 33 taped interviews and detectives had presented him with old photographs of himself and now-Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, and with interviews conducted by people who were “enemies of the peace process”.
He added he did not go to Antrim police station “expecting special treatment” but said his arrest had sent out the “wrong signal”.
Mr Adams had been questioned at Antrim police station since Wednesday, after he was arrested in connection with the IRA murder of Mrs McConville.
Mr Adams again said he was innocent of any involvement in her murder.
He said Sinn Fein remained fully committed to the political process in Northern Ireland. He added: “The IRA is gone, it’s finished”.
The Sinn Fein president also spoke about what the police questioned him on.
“During my interrogation much was made by my interrogators about my time in the 60s, in civil rights campaigns, my arrest and detention in Palace Barracks in the early 70s, my detention in Long Kesh, even the peace talks in 1972. Newspaper articles, photographs of myself and Martin McGuinness at republican funerals were produced, books and other open-sourced material were used as the basis of many of the accusations made against me,” he said.
At the start of the press conference, Mr Adams read a statement in Irish before reading it in English, thanking everyone for the support he had been given, adding: “I am conscious that there is another family at the heart of all of this and that is the family of Jean McConville.
“Let me be very clear – I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs McConville.
“I have worked hard with others to have this injustice redressed and for the return of the bodies of others killed during the conflict and secretly buried by the IRA, and I will continue to do so.”
Last night, Downing Street confirmed that Prime Minister David Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny had spoken to discuss the situation surrounding Mr Adams’ arrest.
Mrs McConville was abducted from her Belfast home, shot and secretly buried. Her body was found on a beach in County Louth in 2003.
She is one of Northern Ireland’s “Disappeared”: those who were abducted, murdered and buried in secret by paramilitaries during the Troubles.
Last night, Mrs McConville’s son Michael called for an independent investigation by a team from outside Northern Ireland so no political pressure was applied. Mr McConville has described how, as an 11-year-old boy, he watched his mother dragged in terror from her home in the Divis flats in West Belfast by neighbours whom he recognised.
But he said he was too afraid to give their names in case he or his family were shot.
He said: “We would like to see all the investigations taken out of Northern Ireland. We would like an independent body to do this so there is no political pressure on the police.”
Mr McConville also vowed that his family’s fight for justice would go on and said recent days had been difficult and stressful.
“The McConville family is going to stay to the bitter end of this, till we get justice for our mother. We know it is going to be a long road but we have already been fighting for justice for 40 years and we are not going to stop now.”
He expressed confidence in the police. “We know that there’s been political people pushing for people to be let go, and we think there has been interference in different cases and we don’t want any interference in this case by any political party.”
Mr McConville was left orphaned by the murder. Afterwards, he and the rest of his siblings were put in different homes.
Following the arrest of Mr Adams, Mr McConville said he was glad detectives were taking the case seriously.
He added: “We all want justice for our mother, and the legal process will continue as I understand that papers are being sent to the Public Prosecution Service following the questioning of Mr Adams.
“We are also glad that there has been a worldwide focus on our mother’s cruel and inhuman treatment by the IRA.
“It has also highlighted the desperate plight of other families of the Disappeared, seven of whom have yet to have the remains of their loved ones returned to them.”
Jean McConville murder timeline
Mrs McConville is dragged screaming from her home in Divis flats in West Belfast by an IRA gang of around 12 men and women. She is shot in the back of the head and buried, becoming one of the “Disappeared”. No-one has been charged with her murder.
1999: One year after the signing of the Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland, the IRA admits killing the 37-year-old widow, claiming she was an informer for the British Army.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains is set up by the British and Irish governments and the IRA passes on information on her possible whereabouts. But subsequent searches by the Irish police in Co Louth fail to find her body.
2001: Boston College interviews former paramilitaries about their roles in the Troubles on the understanding their accounts would not be made public until they die.
2003: The body of Mrs McConville is found on Shilling Beach in Co Louth after a storm exposes her remains.
2006: Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman rejects the IRA claim that Mrs McConville was an informer.
2008: Brendan Hughes, a former IRA commander in Belfast who was one of the figures interviewed for the Boston College project, dies.
2010: A book containing excerpts from Hughes’s interviews is published. Among claims outlined in Voices From The Grave is the allegation that Gerry Adams ordered the murder of Mrs McConville. Mr Adams rejects the accusation. In the same year Dolours Price, IRA Old Bailey bomber in 1973, makes similar allegations about Mr Adams. Price says she has spoken to Boston College.
Mr Adams again denies the claims.
2011: The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) launches a legal bid to try to obtain tapes within the Boston archive that relate to the McConville murder.
2013: Price dies in her Dublin home of a suspected overdose of prescription drugs. That year, the PSNI wins its court battle with Boston College and tapes are handed over.
2014, March: Veteran republican Ivor Bell, 77, is charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Mrs McConville and IRA membership. His lawyer says the prosecution case against his client is based on an interview he allegedly gave to Boston College. The solicitor insists Bell will fight the charges.
Mr Adams issues a statement indicating he is willing to speak to investigators. He again refutes any suggestion he had anything to do with the crime.
Through March and April, four women and one man, aged 56 to 60, are arrested and questioned about the murder. All five are released but reports on the four women are made for the prosecutors to assess.
30 April: Mr Adams presents himself at Antrim police station for interview. He is arrested and taken into custody.