Ivor Bell ruling may jeopardise future Troubles prosecutions

Ivor Bell ruling may jeopardise future Troubles prosecutions
Judge dismisses recordings and directs jury to find Bell not guilty of soliciting murder
Gerry Moriarty, Brian Hutton
Irish Times
18 October 2019

Future prosecutions based on taped interviews with Troubles-era paramilitaries could be in jeopardy after a judge ruled that recordings of Ivor Bell used in his trial for soliciting the 1972 murder of Jean McConville were inadmissible.

Mr Justice John O’Hara was highly critical of the Belfast Project oral history archive after finding that republican and loyalist paramilitaries who provided accounts of their involvement in the conflict did so under the “false guarantee” of confidentiality to protect them from prosecution.

The judge yesterday directed a jury at Laganside Crown Court in Belfast to find Mr Bell (82) not guilty of soliciting Gerry Adams and the late Pat McClure to murder Ms McConville, a mother of 10.

Mr Bell did not provide evidence during the case as he is suffering from vascular dementia, so a trial of the facts was held. This is a court process that can be held when an accused is judged unfit to stand trial due to serious ill-health. The trial sought to establish if Mr Bell committed the alleged acts, and no reporting of the proceedings was allowed until it concluded.

Interviews inadmissible

The judge said the lead researcher on the project, Anthony McIntyre, who conducted the inadmissible interviews with Mr Bell, was guilty of bias and had his “own agenda against Mr Adams, the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement”.

Mr McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, worked on the Belfast Project under the directorship of writer Ed Moloney, while the overall project was run from Boston College.

Mr Moloney said he “refutes absolutely” any bias on the part of the project and that it would in time be regarded as “a very important body of work”.

“I’m sorry, but these people have not read the entire archive,” he said. “The judges haven’t – they’ve read one or two interviews from a vast hoard of what Ivor Bell did and made these sweeping generalisations. It’s absurd, it’s nonsense, they can’t do that.”

Mr Moloney said it “goes without saying” that he regrets that the PSNI was able to obtain the interview with Mr Bell.

Cases Tied to Belfast Project Stall in Court

Cases Tied to Belfast Project Stall in Court
by  Connor Murphy 
The Heights

At least two cases with ties to Boston College’s controversial Belfast Project have stalled in court in Northern Ireland, news reports indicate.

On Monday, Winston Rea’s case was adjourned for the week after a dispute between his lawyers and the prosecution. According to The Belfast Telegraph, Rea is refusing to sign an undertaking that would allow documents containing information from the United States to be admitted in the case.

According to John O’Neill, the Northern Ireland prosecutor in the case, the documents contain information covered by U.S. treaties that must be verified by Rea to ensure proper handling in the case. Rea’s defense team denies that it is contributing to the delay in the case. Rea was charged in June 2016 with two killings and two attempted murders dating back to the mid-1980s.

Another case has been delayed amid questions about the defendant’s health. Earlier this month, Ivor Bell’s case was adjourned until April because he has dementia and requires medical records to determine whether he can stand trial, according to The Belfast Telegraph. Bell is charged with two counts of soliciting the 1972 death of Jean McConnville. His arrest resulted from the release of Belfast Project tapes subpoenaed in 2011, according to The Irish Times.

It is unclear if the U.S.-connected information in the documents is the same information collected on Rea in the project, a series of interviews conducted at BC between 2001 and 2006 that sought to document the experiences of former members of the Irish Republican Army during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, which began in the 1960s and ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement.

The interviews in the project, which was directed by Irish journalist Ed Maloney, were conducted under the understanding that the participants’ identities and testimonies would not be released until after they had all died.

The tapes were first subpoenaed in May 2011 as part of a Northern Ireland investigation into the death of McConnville, who was killed by a group of people after being falsely accused of passing secrets to the British. The subpoena was enabled by a mutual legal assistance treaty that requires the countries to share information that could be used in criminal investigations.

In Dec. 2011, BC was ordered to release the interviews of former IRA members Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes. It filed a motion to close the case in 2013, and that May 2013, according to The Boston Globe, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that only 11 of the 85 subpoenaed tapes had to be released. In May 2014, the Globe reported that BC would return original recordings of interviews to any participants who requested them.

In Jan. 2015, Rea secured a temporary injunction against the release of the tapes implicating him in the killings and attempted murders, but the next month the tapes were obtained by the police. He was charged in June 2016.

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.

Loyalist in wheelchair charged with Troubles murders released on bail

Loyalist in wheelchair charged with Troubles murders released on bail
Published 06/06/2016

A wheelchair-bound veteran loyalist has been released on bail after appearing in court charged with two Troubles murders.

Winston “Winkie” Rea is accused of murdering John Benedict Devine in the Fallswater Street area of West Belfast on July 23 1989, and John Joseph Gerard O’Hara in the Dunluce Avenue area of South Belfast on April 17 1991.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard the 65-year-old from Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down faces a total of 12 charges for offences allegedly carried out between 1971 and 1991.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Inspector Neil McGuinness said he believed he could connect the accused.

Rea was interviewed by police some 32 times and made no admissions, according to his defence lawyer.

He made a statement of denial in his final interview, the lawyer added.

Grey-haired Rea, who was dressed in a dark suit with red checked open neck shirt was pushed into the dock in a wheelchair.

He suffers from a raft of ailments, the court was told.

Only one charge, membership of the proscribed Red Hand Commando, was read out and when asked if he understood what was being said, Rea tapped tapped his ear signalling that he could not hear.

The loyalist was moved further into the dock where he pressed his ear against the toughened glass.

The charge was put a second time and he nodded.

Throughout the brief hearing, the high profile loyalist held on to the dock and listened intently, occasionally glancing up towards the public gallery where relatives were seated in the public gallery.

Just a few seats away were relations of both alleged victims.

A prosecutor said bail was agreed subject to strict conditions including surrendering his passport to the court, residing at a known address and notifying police if he is away from his home address for more than 24 hours.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall released Rea on his own bail of £500 and adjourned the case until August 1.

The judge also excused Rea from his next court appearance because of his failing health.

A fresh investigation into the two deaths was prompted by information contained on tapes the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) obtained from Boston College in the US.

In 2001, the college in Massachusetts commenced a five-year oral history project aimed at documenting perspectives on the Troubles from those involved in the conflict.

Former paramilitaries, both republican and loyalist, were interviewed about their roles in the 40 years of violence which blighted Northern Ireland on the understanding that their accounts would not be made public until after their deaths.

But subsequent court rulings in the US rendered that undertaking useless after the PSNI was awarded custody of the tapes for investigative purposes.