Persecuted, unrepresented.. why loyalists feel they are backed into a corner

Persecuted, unrepresented.. why loyalists feel they are backed into a corner
By Deborah McAleese
BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
03 March 2015

Discontent within loyalism spectacularly erupted in December 2012 when Belfast City Council voted to fly the Union flag at the city hall only on a handful of designated days each year.

Loyalist communities saw this as the latest attack on their culture and identity. What followed was months of disruptive, and often violent, protests that caused massive damage to Northern Ireland’s economy and reputation.

The protesters justified their actions as a fightback against what they perceived to be the erosion of their Britishness.

Two decades on from the peace process and loyalists believe the only winners have been republicans.

They feel persecuted, sidelined and unrepresented. They are also now terrified of what could be uncovered through the Boston College interviews with former Red Hand Commando leader Winston Rea and the ‘supergrass’ case involving ex-UVF leader Gary Haggarty.

There are also hundreds of legacy cases that are yet to be investigated.

Former PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said loyalists were being “hunted down like dogs”, while republican ‘on the runs’ were handed letters “to keep them out of jail”.

Feeling cornered, loyalists have responded with veiled threats of violence, warning that these legacy investigations could have “a destabilising impact on society”.

As long as there remains no other way to address Northern Ireland’s toxic past, the PSNI has no option but to investigate unsolved crimes.

Recently, proposals emerged from the Stormont House talks that include a structure for addressing the past, involving a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

It is unlikely the unit will be operational before 2017. Until then it is the responsibility of the police to pursue these cases.

Elements of loyalism remain wedded to criminality. Paramilitary gangs are involved in drugs, extortion, money laundering and counterfeit cigarettes. In east Belfast it has been claimed that loyalist paramilitaries have been responsible for driving a number of business owners out of the area.

Alliance MP Naomi Long said a number of local employers had told her they had to move their businesses elsewhere because they felt they could “no longer bring a mixed workforce into the neighbourhood”.

This is costing jobs and investment in the area.

Many feel loyalist leaders should be concentrating their efforts on helping to untangle the grip paramilitaries have on their local communities instead of stirring up discord.

‘We’re being hunted like dogs while Provos get their letters of comfort’

‘We’re being hunted like dogs while Provos get their letters of comfort’
A legal tug-of-war over taped conversations with a former Red Hand Commando leader and an impending UVF ‘supergrass’ trial are stoking anger among hardline loyalists, writes Brian Rowan
Belfast Telegraph
03 March 2015

On October 13, 1994, William ‘Plum’ Smith sat at the loyalist top table as the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) declared its ceasefire. It was a response to the IRA cessation announced at the end of August that year.

And by December, Billy Hutchinson headed a loyalist delegation that began exploratory talks with Government officials. Smith and David Ervine were also part of that delegation. And these were the first big steps out of conflict.

But, quoted elsewhere in this newspaper today, both Smith and Hutchinson have said that, if loyalists had known then what they know now, then the ceasefire may not have been called. In their internal discussions, they may not have “got it over the line”.

It is a further indication of growing anger, of a bad mood within the loyalist community, as police investigations continue to take the present back into the past. For loyalists, it means the wars are not really over.

One of those investigations is focused on Winston “Winkie” Rea, one of three loyalist leaders I met on the Shankill Road late on October 12, 1994. Back then, I was accompanied by my colleague Ivan Little and this meeting – and a statement we were given – set the scene for the ceasefire announcement that would come the following morning.

“Winston Rea played a massive role in the peace process and was involved with others in bringing about ceasefires and decommissioning,” PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told this newspaper. “The Boston [College tapes] case just shows the system will do anything to get loyalists in the dock.”

That Boston case is an attempt by police to get access to tapes Rea recorded for an oral history project. It has become a headline tug-of-war in the courts.

And those recent events are a long way removed from the euphoria and the excitement of the ceasefire announcements of 1994.

“I sat in those smoke-filled rooms leading up to the ceasefires with all shades of loyalist paramilitaries and we raised our heads above the parapet as we moved towards bringing to an end decades of conflict,” William Smith said. “It was a dangerous time and, as we talked, bodies were still piling up outside the doors.

“Many of us took risks, even amongst our own constituencies to secure that elusive peace that so many had failed to deliver previously.

“It was tough, it was dangerous, but the goal of an end to the violence for the sake of future generations was a target we believed people deserved.

“Now, 20 years on, I look back and reflect on a peace and future that is held hostage to the past.”

The Boston tapes may add little to what we already know about Winston Rea. A Google search will reveal him as the former leader of the UVF-associated Red Hand Commando.

He is the son-in-law of the late Gusty Spence, was very public in the political negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement and was pictured at the loyalist news conference when the UVF and Red Hand organisations confirmed arms had been decommissioned.

So Rea is one of those loyalists who reads from the chapters of war into the developing peace. That means he was part of an organisation linked to the killings of that pre-ceasefire and pre-peace period.

But will he have discussed the specifics of that on his Boston tapes? Several sources with knowledge of his contribution to the oral history project are adamant that he has not. But the loyalist mood and anger is not just about the investigation focused on Winston Rea.

There is the dark cloud of the ‘supergrass’, or assisting offender, case involving Gary Haggarty, who, like Rea, once had loyalist stripes and a leadership role. He has been in rooms with those who were the key decision-makers, with those who gave the loyalist orders and directions.

Thousands of pages of evidence have been compiled and Haggarty, who was a Special Branch agent, faces a record 212 charges. That list includes five murders, 31 conspiracies to murder and six attempted murders. And this case reads beyond Haggarty. It is about who he might name and implicate that is of most concern to the loyalist leadership.

“It will have a destabilising impact on society, not just one organisation,” Billy Hutchinson said. “It opens the door for others to do this whether republican, loyalist or other. UK legislation that allows this with people like Haggarty is wrong and should be done away with.”

So where could this case lead? Into a detailed examination of a wide range of incidents and activities spanning some 16 years before and after the ceasefires and political agreements.

An investigation of killings, arms importation, UVF membership, swearing-in ceremonies, feuding, ‘punishment’ attacks and assaults, extortion, terrorist funds and directing terrorism.

And that examination will look much wider than Haggarty. It will look at the loyalist leadership and it will look at the Special Branch.

Haggarty was a close associate of Mark Haddock, another significant UVF figure and Special Branch agent, who was investigated by the Police Ombudsman as part of Operation Ballast. And such investigations always stretch out into wider frames.

William Smith may argue that the present is being rewound into the past. But there is no agreed process to remove such investigations.

The Historical Enquiries Team has been replaced by a new Legacy Investigations Branch. And the recent Stormont House talks produced a paper agreement on a structure for addressing the past.

It will have a Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, an Implementation and Reconciliation Group and archive and acknowledgement elements.

The developing peace process has not got to the point of amnesty, of drawing any lines on pre-1998 investigations, inquiries and inquests. And so the past remains an open wound and also open to investigative scrutiny.

Long after the 1994 ceasefires, loyalists and republicans were still importing weapons, still targeting, still killing and kept their organisational structures intact. But loyalists believe they are being treated differently than republicans.

“From my point of view, we understood that by calling the ceasefires everyone would have been treated equally and we would have moved forward,” Hutchinson said.

But he points to the so-called “comfort letters” given to republican suspects on the run, “letters to keep them out of jail” while loyalists are “hunted down like dogs,” he says.

And this is the mood within the loyalist community, a mindset which has prompted this questioning of how the peace process has developed. It has made loyalists who were central to the events of 1994 think back to that period and their decision-making.

“I also doubt very much that if we had known that the ‘rewinders’ would seek out the peacemakers as scapegoats all these years later, that we could have got it (the ceasefire) over the line,” Smith said.

But today’s reality is that the peace has not moved away from the past.

There is still no process that brings all the sides to the table. And there are still many unanswered questions.

And that means, until there is something better, some different approach or new way, that police will continue to investigate.

Senior loyalists: We couldn’t have sold ’94 ceasefire if we knew what we know now

Senior loyalists: We couldn’t have sold ’94 ceasefire if we knew what we know now
By Brian Rowan
BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
03 March 2015

Senior loyalists have revealed that they would not have been able to deliver a ceasefire in 1994 had they known conflict-related investigations would still be continuing today.

Key figures from that period have been speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as police continue their efforts to get access to Boston College interviews with former Red Hand Commando leader Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea.

And loyalists have also warned that the ‘supergrass’ case involving Gary Haggarty, a one-time UVF leader and Special Branch agent, could have “a destabilising impact on society”. Haggarty faces more than 200 charges and loyalists fear his information will lead to the arrests of the most senior paramilitary leaders.

“For a start, we did the right thing in ’94,” PUP leader Billy Hutchinson said.

“But in hindsight, and on reflection, had we known that republicans were going to be given (OTR) letters to keep them out of jail and loyalists were going to be hunted down like dogs, I certainly would have been opposing it (the ceasefire),” he added.

William ‘Plum’ Smith, a former Red Hand Commando prisoner and close associate of ‘Winkie’ Rea, chaired the 1994 news conference at which the ceasefire of the Combined Loyalist Military Command was announced.

“The pursuit of the Boston tapes made by Winston Rea and the resurrection of the supergrass system, albeit under a different name of assisting offender, causes collateral damage to any meaningful or constructive method of dealing with the past,” Smith said.

And with historical investigations continuing, he argued the present was being rewound into the past. He said: “I also doubt very much that if we had known the ‘rewinders’ would seek out the peacemakers as scapegoats all these years later that we could have got it (the ceasefire) over the line,” Smith said.

The legal battle to prevent police hearing Rea’s tapes is continuing.

Smith recently tweeted: “It’s off to the Supreme Court now to appeal decision in Winston Rea tapes case and then the European Court if necessary.”

It was in this newspaper more than three years ago that Rea revealed he had recorded an interview for the Boston College oral history project.

Now, police want the tapes as part of an investigation examining offences of “the utmost gravity” – an investigation that spans a period of more than 20 years.

That investigation covers murder, membership of a proscribed organisation and directing terrorism. But loyalists believe republicans are being treated differently.

“From my point of view we understood that by calling the ceasefires, everyone would have been treated equally and we would have moved forward,” Mr Hutchinson told this newspaper.

But he points to the controversial on-the-runs scheme in which more than 200 republicans received so-called comfort letters allowing them to return home in the period following the Good Friday Agreement.

But the Rea investigation and the Haggarty case mean a detailed examination of the loyalist leadership both before and after the ceasefire continues.

“Twenty years on (from the ceasefire announcement) I look back and reflect on a peace and future that is held hostage to the past,” Smith said.

Recent proposals in the Stormont House talks include a structure for addressing the past that will involve a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR).

The three issues

1. Gary Haggarty

He is currently at the heart of a huge supergrass trial which could take down some of the UVF’s most senior and feared figures.

Gary Haggarty – nicknamed Mr Gadget – is the man whose evidence could topple the leadership of the terror group.

The UVF has been blamed for at least 30 killings since the loyalist ceasefire two decades ago.

Haggarty was reportedly the group’s south-east Antrim commander. He agreed to turn supergrass while on remand in 2010, charged with the 1997 murder of John Harbinson in the Mount Vernon estate. Mr Harbinson was chained to railings and beaten to death with iron bars.

Under the Serious and Organised Crime Act 2005, offenders can be offered a deal involving a reduced sentence for their crimes in return for a full confession and an agreement to provide evidence against others.

During police interviews, Haggarty gave 30,000 pages of information to detectives.

One of the men Haggarty has named in his evidence is former Special Branch agent Mark Haddock. In return for giving evidence against his former peers, Haggarty is expected to be sentenced – if convicted – to as little as three years.

2. On the Runs

The so-called on the run letters (OTR) scheme started in 2000 and saw more than 200 of the letters of comfort issued by the Government to IRA suspects linked to almost 300 murders.

They told people they were not wanted at that time but did not rule out future prosecutions if new evidence became available.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs earlier this year that the scheme for fugitive IRA members “was absolutely critical” to the peace process and at certain points “became fundamental to it”.

The plan was drawn up following pressure from Sinn Fein to allow the fugitives, who, had they been in prison before 1998, would have been released under the Good Friday Agreement, to return to Northern Ireland.

An investigation was launched by MPs when the prosecution of John Downey, (inset), was halted after he received one of the on the runs letters in error.

3. Winston Rea and the Boston tapes

LAST week police won the right to listen to taped interviews by loyalist Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea which had been given as part of Boston College’s Belfast Project.

However, the tapes remain secret, for now, to allow for a possible appeal.

Rea is among a group of loyalist and republican former paramilitaries who were interviewed as part of the project.

The accounts were given on the understanding their content would not be made public until after their deaths. During judicial review proceedings last week the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.

An international request for the tapes said police have information Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes.

Boston Tapes Lead Researcher Comments On Winston Rea Case

Boston Tapes Lead Researcher Comments On Winston Rea Case
Jason Murdock
Off The Record
27 February, 2015

The PSNI has been granted access to the recordings of former loyalist prisoner Winston Rea, however due to an appeal from Rea’s lawyers to the Supreme Court, the tapes from the Boston College archive will remain secret pending further legal proceedings.

UTV News report thatthe tapes will remain in secure storage at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast until Rea’s final legal options are exhausted. PSNI detectives had been in court ready to take possession of them in the same bag in which they were brought back from the United States. Rea was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict

I contacted the former Lead Researcher of the Boston College’s ‘Belfast Project’, Anthony McIntyre, who alongside journalist and Project Director Ed Moloney, set out to compile an oral history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The project featured oral testimonies from both loyalists and republicans with the assurance that the recordings would not be released until the subject had passed away. Mr Moloney previously wrote about his time with the project on Off the Record here.

Mr McIntyre told me the judicial decision was “no surprise”.

“Again it shows the extent to which the PSNI is a player in thwarting truth recovery by its manipulation of the legal process to restrict the emergence of truth by hounding those who might come forward with it. I would describe the PSNI stance as one of prosecuting truth rather than procuring truth. Where it does seek to procure truth it does so in a very limited and partisan fashion, concentrating on non-state actors and shielding state actors.”

When asked about what is likely to happen next Mr McIntyre said that “the ball is out of our court”.

“If the cops decide to charge Winkie Rea or even arrest him to balance up the political stunt they pulled with Adams, it will add to what is already a diminution in confidence in policing and justice within loyalism.

I think the role of Relatives For Justice in seeking to attach itself to the PSNI attempts to secure the Rea interviews will enhance the feeling within loyalism that the legacy issue is very much a political football used for recrimination rather than reconciliation.

These are all destabilising particles being sprayed over the political atmosphere which serve only to pollute rather than purify.

How they settle or what they form into is beyond my predictive powers. There is nothing to suggest they will reach a point of critical mass but they help maintain the simmer for no societal advantage that I can see. But the penumbra that emits from them more resembles crisis building measures than Confidence Building Measures.”

Speaking at the hearing on Friday, Lord Justice Coghlin affirmed that the tapes will remain secret until Mr Rea’s legal options run out, saying “there will be an order that the materials are not disclosed to the PSNI, and be kept where they are at the minute in a secure place in this building.”

What is the Boston College Belfast Project?

The project, launched in 2001, set out to record the oral history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It featured testimonies from both loyalist and republican paramilitaries about their roles during this dark time in Northern Ireland’s history. The initial deal was that these testimonies were to be kept secret until those involved had passed away. After the death of former IRA commander Brendan Hughes the content of his recordings came to light via books and documentaries. They implicated Gerry Adams in events including the death of ‘the disappeared’ Jean McConville. The PSNI engaged in a long court battle to gain access to the recordings and this eventually led to the arrest of Mr Adams just before the 2014 local and European elections. The Sinn Féin President was released without charge.

 

Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea: Police win right to hear Boston tapes: battle moves to Supreme Court

Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea: Police win right to hear Boston tapes
BBC News
27 February 2015

Police have won the right to listen to Boston College interviews by loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

However, for now, the tapes remain secret to allow for a possible appeal.

On Friday, police were in court with a bag to take away the tapes – but were told to wait in case Winston Rea’s legal team appeals to the Supreme Court.

Mr Rea is among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College’s Belfast Project.


What are the ‘Boston tapes’?

Dozens of former paramilitaries were interviewed in Belfast and other cities and towns from 2001-2006 as part of an oral history project known as the Belfast Project.

Details about internal politics and activities of the IRA were revealed on tape, including accounts of a hunger strike in prison in the 1980s.

Overall, the project cost about $200,000 (£118,520), mostly provided by an Irish-American businessman.

Each interview was transcribed, sent by encrypted email to New York and then the material was sent to Boston College, where it was placed under lock and key at Burns Library.

Following a lengthy legal battle with the college, the Police Service of Northern Ireland gained access to a small number of the interviews in 2013.


The interviews were given to researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland Troubles, on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after their deaths.

However, in 2013, detectives investigating the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.

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

In January 2015, Mr Rea, a former prisoner and son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, secured a temporary injunction as police flew out to collect tapes from his interviews.

He is seeking to judicially review the Public Prosecution Service’s attempts to obtain his interviews.

He claims that a subpoena for the material is unlawful and lacking in any specifics about why it is being sought.

Boston College: PSNI win access to Winston Rea’s interviews – but tapes still to remain under lock and key

Boston College: PSNI win access to Winston Rea’s interviews – but tapes still to remain under lock and key
By Alan Erwin
BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
27 February 2015

A former loyalist prisoner today lost his latest legal bid to stop police accessing interviews he gave to an American university project – but the tapes are still to remain under lock and key.

Judges at the Court of Appeal rejected Winston “Winkie” Rea’s claims that the material should not be handed over to detectives investigating murder and other paramilitary crimes because it would breach his right to privacy.

However, they also ordered the Boston College recordings should not be disclosed pending the outcome of a planned Supreme Court challenge to their decision.

The tapes will remain in secure storage at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast until Rea’s final legal options are exhausted.

PSNI detectives had been in court ready to take possession of them in the same bag in which they were brought back from the United States.

Rea was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Interviews were given on the understanding that 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-ten Jean McConville back in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.

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

Rea, a son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, claimed a subpoena for his tapes is unlawful and unspecific.

During judicial review proceedings the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the seventies to the late nineties.

The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.

An international request for the tapes said police have information that Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes.

Earlier this month a High Court judge threw out his challenge after holding that the legal test for seeking the material had been met.

Following that verdict two PSNI detectives boarded a flight to Boston to collect the recordings.

But with their flight mid-Atlantic Rea’s legal team secured a last-minute order restraining any handover while they contested the ruling.

In the appeal hearing counsel for the loyalist argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contain information relevant to any investigation.

He also claimed the request, made under the Crime (International Co-operation) Act, breached Rea’s right to privacy under European law.

However, a barrister representing the Public Prosecution Service claimed Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy around what he told the Boston researchers.

The three judges hearing the appeal agreed to lift the injunction so that PSNI officers travelling back from Boston could bring the unopened tapes with them.

The material was to be deposited with the American Consulate and remain on American territory until a decision is given in the appeal.

Those arrangements were then changed so that the sealed container was taken to be guarded by senior officers at the courts.

Delivering judgment in the appeal today, Lord Justice Coghlin said: “Even on the assumption that the issue of the International Letter of Request may have infringed the applicant’s right to privacy, we are entirely satisfied that any such interference was in accordance with law and necessary in the interests of prevention of crime.

“Accordingly, the application will be dismissed.”

Following the verdict Rea’s barrister, Ronan Lavery QC, confirmed plans to go to the Supreme Court in London and sought an order for the tapes to remain out of police hands until then.

He said: “The detectives are ready in the building to receive the tapes.”

Although Lord Justice Coghlin acknowledged there are victims seeking a resolution, he ruled that the recordings should not be handed over yet.

“There will be an order that the materials are not disclosed to the PSNI, and be kept where they are at the minute in a secure place in this building.”

Boston tapes will not be held in US Consulate in Belfast

Boston tapes will not be held in US Consulate in Belfast
Judge varies order due to difficulties lodging sealed container with US representatives
Alan Erwin
Irish Times
Sat, Feb 14, 2015

Sealed tapes of interviews given by a former loyalist prisoner to a university project will not now be held on American territory in Belfast.

Senior judges had ordered that PSNI detectives could fly back from Boston on Saturday with the recordings Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea is battling to stop them from inspecting.

They had directed that the testimonies remain unopened and be handed over to the US Consulate in Belfast until a decision was reached in the legal action.

However, those conditions were varied late last night due to difficulties in arranging to have the sealed container lodged with American representatives.

Instead, an amended order was made for the tapes to be taken to the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast and placed in secure storage there.

Mr Rea’s lawyers have expressed deep concern at the new plans which mean the recordings will no longer be on US soil.

In correspondence to the Crown Solicitors Office one of his legal representatives said: “We are not happy with the tapes being within the jurisdiction as this could lead to an abuse of process.”

Mr Rea is appealing a failed High Court bid to prevent police investigating murder and other paramilitary crimes from accessing the tapes.

He was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Interviews were given on the understanding that 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-ten Jean McConville back in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.

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

Mr Rea, a son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, claimed a subpoena for his tapes was unlawful and unspecific.

During judicial review proceedings the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the seventies to the late nineties.

The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.

An international request for the tapes said police have information that alleged Mr Rea had been a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes.

On Monday Mr Justice Treacy threw out his challenge after holding that the legal test for seeking the material had been met.

Following that verdict two PSNI detectives boarded a flight to Boston to collect the recordings.

But with their flight over the Atlantic Mr Rea’s legal team secured a last-minute order restraining any handover while they contested the ruling.

In the Court of Appeal on Friday counsel for the loyalist, argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contained information relevant to any investigation.

He also claimed the request, made under the Crime (International Co-operation) Act, breached Mr Rea’s right to privacy under European law.

However, a barrister representing the Public Prosecution Service claimed Mr Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy around what he told the Boston researchers.

The three judges hearing the appeal reserved their decision until early next week.

At that stage they agreed to lift the injunction so that PSNI officers travelling back from Boston today can bring the unopened tapes with them.

The material was to be deposited with the American Consulate and remain on American territory until a decision is given in the appeal.

Now, however, the sealed container will be guarded by senior court officers.

Mr Rea’s solicitor, Kevin Winters, stressed: “We have asked for an affidavit confirming the safe receipt of the tapes and that they are sealed and in the possession of the court.”

Winston Rea Boston College tapes to be stored at Belfast court

Winston Rea Boston College tapes to be stored at Belfast court
Winston Rea was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College researchers for an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict
BBC News
14 February 2015

Sealed tapes of interviews given by a former loyalist prisoner to a university project will not now be held on American territory in Belfast.

Winston Rea was one of dozens of former paramilitaries who provided testimonies about the Northern Ireland Troubles to Boston College’s Belfast Project.

Mr Rea is trying to stop police from listening to the tapes.

The sealed tapes will now be stored at the Royal Courts of Justice rather than the US consulate building in Belfast.

Senior judges had ordered that PSNI detectives could fly back from Boston on Saturday with the recordings.

They directed that the testimonies must remain unopened and then be handed over to the US Consulate in Belfast until a decision is reached in the legal action.

But those conditions were varied late on Friday night due to difficulties in arranging to have the sealed container lodged with American representatives.

Mr Rea is appealing a failed High Court bid to prevent police investigating murder and other paramilitary crimes from accessing the tapes.

‘Not happy’

His lawyers expressed concern at the new plans that mean the recordings will no longer be on US soil.

In correspondence to the Crown Solicitors Office, one of his legal representatives said: “We are not happy with the tapes being within the jurisdiction as this could lead to an abuse of process.”

The interviews to Boston College were given on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after the former paramilitaries’ deaths.

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

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

Mr Rea claimed a subpoena for his tapes is unlawful and unspecific.

During judicial review proceedings the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the seventies to the late nineties.

The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.

An international request for the tapes said police have information that Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes.

On Monday, a judge in Belfast threw out Mr Rea’s challenge to police accessing the tapes after holding that the legal test for seeking the material had been met.

Mid-Atlantic

Following that verdict two PSNI detectives boarded a flight to Boston to collect the recordings.

But with their flight mid-Atlantic Mr Rea’s legal team secured a last-minute order restraining any handover while they contested the ruling.

In the Court of Appeal on Friday counsel for the loyalist argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contain information relevant to any investigation.

He also claimed the request, made under the Crime (International Co-operation) Act, breached Mr Rea’s right to privacy under European law.

However, a barrister representing the Public Prosecution Service claimed Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy around what he told the Boston researchers.

The three judges hearing the appeal reserved their decision until early next week.

At that stage they agreed to lift the injunction so that PSNI officers travelling back from Boston on Saturday can bring the unopened tapes with them.

The material was to be deposited with the American Consulate and remain on American territory until a decision is given in the appeal.

Now, however, the sealed container will be guarded by senior court officers.

Boston College tapes: Winston Rea’s interviews to be flown back from America but police must not examine contents

Boston College tapes: Winston Rea’s interviews to be flown back from America but police must not examine contents
By Alan Erwin
BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
13 February 2015

Police are to be allowed to fly back from America with the interviews a former loyalist prisoner gave to a university project – but they must not examine the contents.

The Court of Appeal lifted an injunction so that two PSNI detectives in Boston can return tomorrow with the tapes Winston “Winkie” Rea is battling to stop them from inspecting.

Senior judges ordered that the recordings are to remain sealed and then handed over to the US Consultate in Belfast until a decision is reached in the legal action.

Rea is appealing a failed High Court bid to prevent police investigating murder and other paramilitary crimes from accessing the tapes.

Interviews were given on the understanding that 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-ten Jean McConville back in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.

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

Rea, a son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, claimed a subpoena for his tapes is unlawful and unspecific.

During judicial review proceedings the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the seventies to the late nineties.

The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.

An international request for the tapes said police have information that Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes.

On Monday Mr Justice Treacy threw out his challenge after holding that the legal test for seeking the material had been met.

Following that verdict two PSNI detectives boarded a flight to Boston to collect the recordings.

But with their flight mid-Atlantic Rea’s legal team secured a last-minute order restraining any handover while they contested the ruling.

In the Court of Appeal today Ronan Lavery QC, for the loyalist, argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contain information relevant to any investigation.

He also claimed the request, made under the Crime (International Co-operation) Act, breached Rea’s right to privacy under European law.

“This cannot be a charter to snoop on material that falls outside the EU guidelines,” Mr Lavery contended.

However, Peter Coll QC, representing the Public Prosecution Service, claimed Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy around what he told the Boston researchers.

He argued: “He was not given a cast-iron, boiler-plated guarantee that whatever he said would, until the time of his death, be protected from all outside influences.”

The three judges hearing the appeal reserved their decision until sometime early next week.

But they agreed to a request by Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, that the officers scheduled to travel back from Boston tomorrow be allowed to bring the unopened tapes with them.

Based on an undertaking given on behalf of the PSNI, Lord Justice Coghlin confirmed the injunction would be lifted.

He emphasised: “The material that the college is prepared to surrender in answer to this request is handed to police officers in sealed containers upon which the seals can be clearly seen.

“It follows from that if they are interfered with that can also be seen.”

The judge further ordered: “These materials must travel with them from the United States to Belfast where they are to be deposited with the American Consulate and remain on American territory until we give a decision.”

Policing Politics: Dealing with the Past an Ongoing PSNI Train Wreck

Policing Politics: Dealing with the Past an Ongoing PSNI Train Wreck
Balaclava Street
13 February, 2015

The recent tribulations surrounding the PSNI’s attempts to gain access to Winston Rea’s Belfast Project tapes are yet another dismal but unsurprising instalment in this episodic train wreck.

As noted by Ed Moloney, it reeks of counter-balancing, a politically-motivated attempt at even-handedness after the previous arrests of Gerry Adams, Ivor Bell, and other republicans.

This entire debacle, brought about by Boston College’s bogus guarantees and failure to protect the project, highlights the patchwork, expedient nature of the Belfast Agreement, which has left a legacy of ad hoc, unfocused, and at times contradictory attempts to deal with the past and the issue of historical offences.

Is this pursuit of the BC tapes in keeping with the spirit of early release, OTR amnesties, paramilitants in government, and the like? With the first prime minister in possibly 50 years with no apparent interest in Northern Ireland, is Downing St even aware of the damage this is causing?

After the undignified arrest of a decrepit and visibly infirm Ivor Bell, the PSNI have now zeroed in on Rea, another pensioner in ill health.

The irony is that the Red Hand Commando, the organisation he is accused of leading, is to date – and I’m willing to be corrected – the only paramilitary group which has completely disbanded.

The only remnant of its existence is an “Old Comrades” association. What sort of message does this send out at a time when the UVF and UDA are trying to persuade loyalists to engage with conflict transformation initiatives?

It is no exaggeration to say that the PSNI’s Belfast Project vendetta represents an attack on source confidentiality, a cornerstone of journalistic, academic, and historical research.

Indeed, if we are now operating on the principle that there is no such thing as academic or journalistic confidentiality, why not raid the offices of, say, the Sunday World? Wouldn’t their informants, plied with drink and cash-stuffed envelopes, be a more appropriate target, given that they would have information on current rather than historical offences?

In fact, why not pull in every author who has published a book on the Troubles and compel them to reveal their sources? As low down in the food chain as I am, even I have noticed a degree of reluctance amongst sources and potential interviewees who have cited the BC affair as the source of their concerns.

The latest counter-balancing exercise obscures the fact that an even-handed approach to investigating the crimes of the Troubles is a political chimera.

The unique relationship between the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein, with dual membership and army-to-party transitions commonplace, means that any wide-ranging investigation into the “army” will at some point inevitably stumble across figures who are presently prominent or senior within the “party”, specifically Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

The ramifications of such an occurrence are easy to imagine. As such, political necessity will likely dictate that police attention continues to focus upon both loyalists and republican dissenters.

When the stakes potentially involve Sinn Fein’s continuing participation in power-sharing, “in the public interest” becomes an elastic and expansive term.