Northern Ireland

Attempts to have loyalist Winston Rea returned for trial 'delayed by stand-off over documents'

Winston Rea leaves court in Belfast following a previous hearing. Picture by Hugh Russell
Winston Rea leaves court in Belfast following a previous hearing. Picture by Hugh Russell

LAWYERS for a veteran loyalist facing prosecution over two murders are refusing to sign an undertaking about handling American documents in the case, a court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed attempts to have Winston "Winkie" Rea returned for trial on counts connected to the killings in Belfast more than 25 years ago are being delayed by the stand-off.

But the 66-year-old's legal team rejected suggestions that it was responsible for any delay.

Rea, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, currently stands charged with the paramilitary killings of Catholic workmen John Devine in 1989 and John O'Hara in 1991.

He is also accused of two other attempted murders, including an attack on Malachy McAllister in the city in October 1988, weapons offences and membership of the outlawed Red Hand Commando group.

Rea was charged in June last year by detectives from the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch investigating killings stretching back into the Troubles. He denies the allegations.

The renewed probe came after police won a legal battle to gain access to interviews he gave to Boston College researchers behind a project on the conflict.

John Devine (37) was shot dead at his home on Fallswater Street in west Belfast on July 23 1989.

Taxi driver John O'Hara (41) was murdered in his car at Dunluce Avenue in the south of the city on April 17 1991.

Other charges brought against Rea include another attempted murder of an unknown man in the city's Falls Road area sometime between January 1971 and 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 details of suspected members of the IRA.

As the case was mentioned at Belfast Magistrates' Court today, Rea was once again excused from attending on health grounds.

Public Prosecution Service lawyer John O'Neill said documents for a preliminary enquiry hearing are ready at his offices.

"The defence are refusing to accept service of these papers," he said.

Mr O'Neill set out how the dossier contains material from America covered by treaties that require formal assurances to ensure proper handling.

According to the lawyer, Rea's legal team are unwilling to sign the necessary undertakings.

He told District Judge Mark Hamill the case involved "multiple" counts, and claimed the situation was causing added distress to the victims' families.

Preliminary enquiry papers will have to be re-formulated to take out all the US material, Mr O'Neill added.

However, defence counsel Tom McCreanor disputed the prosecutor's depiction, describing claims of a refusal as "pejorative" .

Insisting Rea's team was ready to accept committal papers, he added: "Any agreement between the PPS and an outside body, the defence are not part of that."

Adjourning the case for a week, Mr Hamill ordered the defendant to attend the next hearing.