The Irish republican leader Gerry Adams was arrested on Monday night over the IRA murder of a mother of 10 in the 1970s.
He was held for interrogation about one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles – the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, a widow shot and secretly buried by the IRA.
Mr Adams, 65, presented himself to police on Monday night and was arrested. Speaking before his arrest, Mr Adams said he was “innocent of any part” in the murder, adding: “Well-publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me. I reject these.”
Some weeks ago, Mr Adams instructed his solicitor to contact police about the case, and to say that if requested he would meet them.
The IRA for decades denied involvement in McConville’s death but eventually admitted it had killed her. A number of large-scale searches for her body, which had been buried on a beach in the Irish Republic, were unsuccessful, but her remains were found, apparently accidentally, in 2003.
The Sinn Féin president has for years flatly denied many accusations of involvement in the murder, and has also maintained he was never a member of the IRA.
Despite this stance he has repeatedly come under fire from politicians in both parts of Ireland, and has been named by journalists and authors as one of the leading lights in the IRA in 1970s Belfast.
He has also been accused of involvement in the McConville killing by former republican colleagues such as Brendan Hughes, a one-time Belfast IRA leader who was close to him.
Hughes, who died several years ago, accused Mr Adams of denigrating the IRA by refusing to admit he had been part of its long-running campaign.
Hughes and other former IRA figures, who are now strongly opposed to Mr Adams, made allegations against him in interviews conducted as part of research sponsored by Boston College.
After long-running legal battles in the US, material from the interviews was handed over to authorities in Northern Ireland. Allegations made during the interviews may have provided possible evidence against Mr Adams.
He was also attacked earlier this month by a former republican prisoner, Evelyn Gilroy, who demanded police arrest the Sinn Féin president.
Half a dozen men and women have already been arrested by police investigating the McConville case. Most have been released but one, former prominent republican Ivor Malachy Bell, has been charged with the murder following his arrest on 18 March this year.
Mrs Gilroy told a newspaper: “I’m very angry that grassroots republicans are being arrested. I don’t know how Gerry Adams has the nerve to look the McConvilles in the eye. If he wants to know the truth about Jean’s execution, all he has to do is stand in front of the mirror and talk to himself.”
Sinn Féin is currently immersed in fighting elections in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. A one-time Westminster MP, in recent years Mr Adams has shifted his political base from Belfast to the south where his party seems poised to make significant electoral gains.