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Northern Ireland says Gerry Adams won't face prosecution over 1972 murder

Nationalist leader was arrested last year for shooting death of mother of 10 Jean McConville, accused of being a spy

Irish nationalist leader Gerry Adams and six other suspected IRA veterans will not face prosecution over the 1972 abduction, murder and secret burial of a mother of 10 in Belfast, Northern Irish prosecutors said Tuesday.

Adams, 66, was arrested last year on suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of Jean McConville, a 38-year-old widow whom the Irish Republican Army (IRA) believed was a British informer. Detectives freed Adams, president of the Sinn Fein political party, without charge after four days of questioning, but sent an evidence file to prosecutors.

Speaking Tuesday, Pamela Atchison, Northern Ireland's deputy of public prosecutions, said that evidence was “insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction” against Adams and the other men who had been suspected. As such, they would face no charges. Adams called the decision “long overdue,” adding that he had been falsely accused as part of a “sustained malicious campaign.” 

The murder of McConville, who was seized by paramilitaries from a nationalist area of Belfast, was one of the most controversial of over 3,000 killings in three decades of sectarian violence known as the Troubles.

Adams's arrest for four days in May 2014 rocked Northern Ireland's power-sharing government and the decision not to prosecute comes as his party is locked in talks with pro-British rivals to avert a government collapse, in part over allegations that the IRA — to which Sinn Fein is linked — was still operational despite vowing to disband as part of a landmark 1998 peace deal.

McConville's death has long provoked strong feelings in Northern Ireland. Reflecting the embarrassment associated with killing a widowed mother, the IRA did not admit the killing until 1999, when it claimed responsibility for nearly a dozen slayings of long-vanished civilians and offered to try to pinpoint their unmarked graves. McConville's children had been told she abandoned them, and they were divided into different foster homes.

Her remains were discovered only by accident near a Republic of Ireland beach in 2003. The woman bore a single bullet mark through the back of the skull, and forensics officers determined she'd been shot once through the back of the head with a rifle.

Adams was implicated in the killing by two IRA veterans, who gave taped interviews to researchers for a Boston College history archive on the four-decade Northern Ireland conflict. Belfast police waged a two-year legal fight in the United States to acquire the interviews, parts of which were already published after the 2008 death of one IRA interviewee, Brendan Hughes.

Boston College immediately handed over the Hughes tapes. The college and researchers fought unsuccessfully to avoid handing over tapes of the second IRA interviewee, Dolours Price, who died in 2013.

Both Hughes and Price agreed to be interviewed on condition that their contents were kept confidential until their deaths.

In his interviews, Hughes, a reputed 1970s deputy to Adams within the Belfast IRA, said McConville was killed on Adams' orders. Hughes said Adams oversaw a special IRA unit called “The Unknowns” that was committed to identifying, killing and secretly burying Belfast Catholic civilians suspected of spying on behalf of the police or British Army. An independent investigation by Northern Ireland's police-complaints watchdog in 2006 found no evidence that McConville had been a spy.

Adams said on Tuesday he “played no act or part” in the murder, and that the timing of his arrest, weeks before 2014 local and European elections in Ireland showed there were “elements within the PSNI [police] who are against Sinn Fein.”

One of McConville's sons, Michael, said in a statement he would “continue to seek justice for our mother ... no matter how long it takes.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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