Trial of loyalist Winston Rea has been postponed to allow him to undergo a series of medical tests

Loyalist Winston Rea at a previous court hearing. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE trial of former leading loyalist Winston Rea has been postponed to allow him to undergo a series of medical tests.

Belfast Crown Court heard today that the defendant may have to undergo MRI or CT scans for a "long standing illness''.

Defence counsel Arthur Harvey QC said the 67-year-old, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, has also been examined by a neurological psychiatrist.

Rea was arraigned in October 2017 and pleaded not guilty to all 19 charges said to have been committed on dates between 1973 and 1996.

Included in the charges faced by "Winkie' Rea are conspiring to murder Catholic men John Devine in July 1989 and John O'Hara in April 1991.

Mr Devine (37) was shot in front of his teenage son in west Belfast while Mr O'Hara, a 41-year-old taxi driver, was lured to his murder in the south of the city.

Rea has also been charged with conspiring with others to threaten to kill LVF leader Billy Wright in August 1996.

He also pleaded not guilty to firearms and other terror-related charges, including conspiring to possess firearms secured from the Ulster Resistance paramilitary group on dates between November 1986 and October 1994.

He is further charged with encouraging the murder of "persons working in shops selling An Phoblacht in republican and nationalist areas" between November 1977 and October 1994.

Rea, who was not in court for proceedings, was due to stand trial on all charges early next month.

At today's review hearing, Mr Justice Colton heard that Rea had recently been examined by consultant pyschiatrist Dr Helen Harbinson about his "cognitive ability'' for the trial over a "long standing illness''.

Arthur Harvey QC said that three months ago Rea had a pacemaker device fitted to his heart which had "created a significant number of complications for the MRI and CT scans''.

He added that a medical pratictioner had advised the defence that if the scans were to be carried out "eight doctors would have to present for the removal of the heart pacemaker''.

The defence QC said that Rea "will consent to any examination by experts appointed by the prosecution''.

Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said he was mindful that "the families of multiple alleged victims will have been preparing themselves'' ahead of next month's trial, adding that the provision of expert reports could cause "further delays for a considerable period''.

He urged Mr Justice Colton to fix a new date for the trial in the current court term.

Mr Justice Colton directed that a consultant neurological psychiatrist's report on Rea be served on the prosecution within three weeks.

Mr Justice Colton said that he was requesting the "full co-operation'' of all defence medical experts in the case, urging them to comply with his directions which were "in the public interest of the trial process''.

The senior judge listed the trial, which will sit without a jury, November 12 this year and said he would review progress in the case next month.

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