Ulster loyalist’s murder case ‘cynical attempt’ to protect police, court told

Ulster loyalist’s murder case ‘cynical attempt’ to protect police, court told
Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
the Guardian
Monday 6 June 2016 14.57 BST

The prosecution of a veteran Ulster loyalist in connection with two murders is designed to protect the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s image among Irish-Americans, it has been alleged.

Winston ”Winkie” Rea appeared at Belfast magistrates court on Monday charged with murdering two Catholics in the city in 1989 and 1991.

A fresh investigation into the deaths was prompted by information contained on tapes the PSNI obtained from Boston College in the US.

Ed Moloney, the award-winning journalist and director of Boston College’s ”Belfast Project”, in which ex-IRA and Ulster Volunteer Force members gave frank testimony about their role in Troubles-related violence, described Rea as the “token Prod” arrested for political reasons only.

Rae stands accused of murdering John Devine in 1989 at his home in west Belfast and taxi driver John O’Hara, who was shot dead while answering a bogus phone call in 1991.

Other charges brought against Rea include the attempted murders of Malachy McAllister in Belfast on 2 October 1988, and of an unknown male in the city’s Falls Road area sometime between 1 January 1971 and 23 February 1973.

He also faces counts of membership of a proscribed organisation on dates between 1973 and 1996, possession of an AK47 assault rifle, three revolvers, a 9mm Browning pistol and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

A further charge of possessing information useful to terrorists relates to claims that between 1984 and 1986 he had documents containing the identification and address details of suspected members of the IRA.

The 65-year-old denied all 32 charges put to him by PSNI detectives. Under questioning from a defence lawyer, a detective admitted that Rea made no admissions to any of the charges brought against him.

Officers from the PSNI’s legacy unit, which is tasked with investigating unsolved crimes from the Northern Ireland Troubles, arrested Rea at his home in Groomsport, County Down, last Tuesday.

The veteran loyalist was a one-time member of terror group the Red Hand Commando, a satellite organisation of the larger and oldest pro-union paramilitary movement, the Ulster Volunteer Force. He was one of dozens of Ulster loyalists and Irish republicans who were interviewed by researchers from Boston College’s Belfast Project. They gave full and frank testimonies about their role in paramilitary violence during the Troubles on condition that their taped interviews would not be made public until they were dead.

Moloney said charging Rea was part of a “cynical attempt by the PSNI to show even-handedness in their pursuit of the Boston College tapes.”

The author of the award-winning A Secret History of the IRA and Belfast Project director said: “Available evidence shows that the PSNI only moved against Mr Rea – nearly four years after the first subpoena was served against Dolours Price (IRA Old Bailey bomber arrested in connection with the murder of widow Jean McConville in 1972) – when the force’s handling of the Boston College archive was criticised by establishment figures in Irish-America for being one-sided.

“Mr Rea is in the unfortunate position of being the ‘token Prod’, to be sacrificed to protect the PSNI’s image and to preserve establishment Irish-American support for the force,” Moloney said. “The decision to prosecute Mr Rea was taken for solely political reasons.”

Moloney said Monday’s court case would further undermine efforts to set up a truth and reconciliation process to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“The damage done by the PSNI to any credible effort to tell the truth about the Troubles is now beyond calculation, thanks to this blinkered pursuit of alleged activists, both state and non-state, via criminal prosecution.

“Who in their right minds would contribute to a truth-telling process in Northern Ireland in such circumstances? Thanks to the PSNI it seems Northern Ireland is forever condemned to be haunted and cursed by unanswered questions from the past.”

Granting bail, district judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to excuse Rea from attending the next hearing in eight weeks’ time. She released him on a £500 surety and banned him from any contact with prosecution witnesses.

Rea must also notify police if he plans to be away from his home address for more than 24 hours.