Northern Ireland

Trial of Winston `Winkie' Rea hears ordinary innocent Catholics were considered legitimate targets

Winston Churchill Rea, (aka Winkie Rea), at the opening of his trial at Belfast Crown Court
Winston Churchill Rea, (aka Winkie Rea), at the opening of his trial at Belfast Crown Court Winston Churchill Rea, (aka Winkie Rea), at the opening of his trial at Belfast Crown Court

INNOCENT Catholics were considered legitimate targets because they supposedly contributed to IRA coffers, a loyalist paramilitary leader confessed on tape.

The tape, one of seven, was allegedly made by one-time Red Hand Commando head, Winston Churchill Rea, for the Belfast Project, where former loyalist and republicans were interviewed by Boston College about their past.

They form the backbone of the prosecution case against the pensioner.

The 69-year-old, of Springwell Road in Groomsport, Co Down, denies 19 charges spanning more than a quarter of a century, including aiding, abetting and conspiring to murder Catholic men John Devine in 1989 and John O'Hara in 1991 and conspiring to threaten to kill LVF leader Billy Wright in 1996.

He has also pleaded not guilty to attempted murders and other terror-related offences, including membership of the Red Hand Commando, targeting people selling An Phoblacht, conspiring to possess firearms including those secured by the Ulster Resistance paramilitary group, and collecting information useful to terrorists.

The prosecution at his Belfast Crown Court trial claim that Mr Rea, who alluded on tape to his identity as "Winston Winkie Rea", is the person designated as "Interviewee L" and who confessed to the crimes he denies.

On Wednesday, during one tape section, L was asked about the strategies of the RHC in the opening days of the Troubles. He replied it was "his belief, if there hadn't been a Protestant/loyalist backlash", they would have been "driven into a united Ireland".

He said the RHC was "prepared to enter enemy territory", and regarded ordinary Catholics as legitimate targets because they were seen putting money into the "wooden collection boxes" of the IRA at the chapel gates as they left Mass.

Loyalists felt the money was used to buy guns and bullets and the "Red Hand viewed those people contributing, were just as guilty as those who pulled the trigger".

L went on to explain that while they much preferred to target and kill actual republicans because of the publicity from their IRA televised funerals, which provided "a morale-boost" to the RHC leadership "the killing of ordinary Catholics was very much viewed as still part of the strategy".

He said the loyalist community was "very much 100 per cent behind us". He said doors in loyalist area were always "left open for you", and that "without the support of the community, you didn't stand a chance".

Later in that first interview, L confided that when troops were initially deployed, "obviously the soldiers would have been favourable to loyalists". He further claimed "so much so" soldiers had "no hesitation" in handing over their weapons to loyalist gunmen to fire into Catholic housing estates.

The soldiers, who had to account for their ammunition, only handed over their rifles. L claimed to have witnessed it with his "own eyes".

However, the speaker said this happened only between individual soldiers and loyalist gunmen, and that it was "just something" that came from privates themselves, "from the buckshee privates", it was "nothing orchestrated, it was just something, not from the top".

Things changed however when that unnamed regiment was moved.

The trial continues.