Police to hear what top loyalist told Boston interviewers

Police to hear what top loyalist told Boston interviewers
Way cleared for detectives to seize Troubles tapes from US history project
By Alan Erwin
BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
10 February 2015

A former loyalist prisoner has lost his legal battle to prevent taped interviews he gave to a US university project being handed over to police investigating Troubles murders and robberies.

Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea issued judicial review proceedings in an attempt to halt any handover of the Boston College material.

But a High Court judge has now rejected claims that the move was unlawful and breached his rights to privacy.

Dismissing Rea’s challenge, Mr Justice Treacy said: “It’s clear in my view that the applicant is subject to a police investigation into crimes of the gravest kind.”

The ruling clears the way for PSNI detectives to fly to America to take possession of recordings of the loyalist’s interviews.

In a statement issued after the verdict, Rea repeated his claim that police and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) were involved in nothing more than a “fishing exercise” in seeking the recordings.

He was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to researchers compiling an oral history of the Troubles.

The interviews were given on the understanding that the tapes would not be made public until after their deaths.

But those assurances were dealt a blow in 2013 when detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s interviews.

That material was handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.

In this latest tussle, Rea, a son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, claimed the order for the handover of his tapes was unlawful and unspecific. His barrister said the police move was based purely on rumour and a newspaper interview given by Rea and fellow loyalist William ‘Plum’ Smith three years ago.

But the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes from the 1970s to the late 1990s. The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of an illegal organisation and robbery.

An international request for the tapes said police have information that Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando and his interviews would assist investigations into those crimes. It claimed he has “a long involvement in organising and participating in terrorist offences in Northern Ireland, including murder, directing terrorism and robbery”.

He was also alleged to have acted as a personal security guard to Spence and met with former Prime Minister John Major in 1996 – a claim disputed by Rea.

Mr Justice Treacy threw out Rea’s challenge after ruling that the test for seeking the material had been met. He said it was “manifest” from the terms of the request that a police investigation was under way and concluded: “The request was plainly lawful.”

“There is no credible contention that the applicant’s rights (under the European Convention on Human Rights) are infringed,” he added.

Two weeks ago Rea secured a temporary injunction as police were set to board a plane for America to get the tapes.

But now, with his judicial review application dismissed, counsel for the PSNI confirmed that the injunction no longer applies.

Tony McGleenan QC said: “There was an order for interim relief made by consent. That is revoked and police are now free to proceed.”

The judge replied: “I assume that flows automatically.”

Rea, who is believed to have health problems, was not in court for the ruling. But Smith did attend and following the outcome issued a statement in his loyalist colleague’s name.

In it, Rea said: “The controversy and speculation of the present legal battle by the PPS and PSNI to have my tapes impounded from the USA because they have suspicion or speculation that they might contain information that might be useful to them is nothing more than a fishing exercise.

“They list a wide-ranging web of allegations that go beyond the realms of investigation. They list that I met John Major in 1996 during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, which infers that I must be a senior member of an illegal organisation; that I was the bodyguard of my late father-in-law Gusty Spence, that I was responsible for a spate of robberies of debt collectors in north Down.

“They also refer to two murders and an attempted murder which I totally refute, as well as the other allegations – three of directing terrorism and three of membership.”

Rea added that a newspaper interview he gave about the Boston College project was used to suggest that he wanted his tapes back because there was something on them. “The PPS presented at court that they were allegations of the utmost gravity, yet it took them two years and nine months before they even requested my tapes. Why?”

In the statement, he also pondered whether his case had anything to do with the arrest of republicans and the decision to charge 77-year-old west Belfast man Ivor Bell with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville.