SINN FEIN president Gerry Adams was last night arrested by detectives investigating the abduction and murder of a Belfast mother more than four decades ago.
The 65-year-old has always vehemently rejected the allegations made by former republican colleagues that he had a role in ordering the notorious IRA killing in 1972.
He presented himself to Antrim police station yesterday evening.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) then confirmed an arrest had been made around 8.30pm, saying: “A 65-year-old man has been arrested this evening in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in December 1972.”
Mrs McConville, a widow and mother-of-10, was abducted from her flat in the Divis area of west Belfast and shot by the IRA.
The 37-year-old was one of Northern Ireland’s “Disappeared”. The IRA admitted in 1999 that it murdered and buried nine of the so-called Disappeared at secret locations. A victims’ commission lists 16 as Disappeared.
Mrs McConville was kidnapped in front of her children after being wrongly accused of being an informer.
Her body was recovered from a beach in County Louth in 2003.
No one has ever been charged with the murder. But after years without progress in the criminal investigation, there have been a series of arrests in recent weeks.
Last month Ivor Bell, 77, a former leader in the Provisional IRA in the 1970s, was charged with aiding and abetting the murder.
In the wake of the recent developments in the case, last month Mr Adams, who has always denied membership of the IRA, said he would be available to meet detectives if they wished to speak to him.
Mr Adams, 65, a former MP for West Belfast and now a Teachtaí Dála (member of parliament) for County Louth in the Irish Dail, presented himself at the police station by prior arrangement with officers.
He issued a statement minutes after the PSNI announced an arrest had been made.
Mr Adams said: “Last month I said that I was available to meet the PSNI about the Jean McConville case.
“While I have concerns about the timing, I am voluntarily meeting with the PSNI this evening.
“As a republican leader, I have never shirked my responsibility to build the peace.
“This includes dealing with the difficult issue of victims and their families. Insofar as it is possible, I have worked to bring closure to victims and their families who have contacted me. Even though they may not agree, this includes the family of Jean McConville.
“I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family.
“Well publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these.
“While I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will, I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs McConville.”
He went on to insist his party was committed to the Haass proposals. The Haass plan – drawn up by former US diplomat Richard Haass in recent months – details how to deal with unresolved elements of the Troubles.
These include the fact that more than 3,500 people died but that, in almost 3,300 cases, no-one was prosecuted. The plan also seeks to resolve tension over the use of flags and parades in today’s Northern Ireland.
The case against former IRA commander Bell is based on an interview he allegedly gave to researchers at Boston College in the United States.
The Boston College tapes are a series of confessional interviews with both former loyalist and republican paramilitaries, designed to be an oral history of the Troubles.
Those taking part were told the tapes would only be made public after their deaths.
But after a series of court cases in the United States, some of the content has been handed over to the authorities.