Northern Ireland

Innocent Catholic murdered by loyalists in the presence of his 13-year old son was struck by up to nine bullets, Winston Rea trial hears

Loyalist Winston Rea. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Loyalist Winston Rea. Picture by Hugh Russell.

A COALMAN who was murdered by loyalists in the presence of his 13-year old son was struck by up to nine bullets, a court heard yesterday.

John Devine, a 37-year old father-of-three, was gunned down in his Fallswater Street home on the afternoon of Sunday July 23, 1989.

He was later described by a senior policeman as an innocent Catholic who was murdered for no other reason than his religion.

Details of Mr Devine's final moments emerged at the non-jury trial of Winston 'Winkie' Rea, who has been charged with - and denies - 19 offences linked to loyalist paramilitary activity between 1973 and 1996.

One charge levelled at the 69-year old, from Springwell Gardens in Groomsport, is conspiring with persons unknown to murder John Devine.

At the time, both Mr Rea and Mr Devine worked as coalmen and used the same merchants yard in Belfast.

The trial has already heard there is no information or evidence whatsoever to link Mr Devine to any unlawful paramilitary organisation or unlawful activity.

The victim's son Sean, who was 13 at the time, was present when his father was murdered.

In a statement he gave in the aftermath of the murder, he told how he answered a knock at the door after 2pm.

"We heard a rap at the front inside door. I got up and went out to the hall to answer it. Before I was able to do this, a man opened it and he walked into the house, straight past me. There were two men behind him.

"The first one was carrying a dull, silver-coloured revolver. They told me they were the IRA and that they were taking over the house.

"I saw all three of these men walk into the living room, where daddy was sitting. I heard one shot and then I heard my daddy groaning.

"I immediately ran out into the street and started shouting for help. I was really screaming. I then heard two or three more shots and then about 15 seconds later all three men ran out from the house."

The then-teenager said he saw the trio run down the street and get into a blue Vauxhall Cavalier, which sped off towards Ivy Street.

The statement continued: "I ran back into the house. I went into the living room and found daddy lying on the floor. I think he was alive still. I think his heart was still beating. The blood was flowing from a wound to his right side."

It is the Crown's case that the car used by the killers was a taxi that was hijacked at gunpoint around 30 minutes before the fatal gun attack.

A post mortem found that Mr Devine was struck in his head and trunk by eight or nine bullets.

Details surrounding the murder of 41-year old taxi driver John O'Hara also emerged at yesterday's hearing.

Mr Rea has been charged with, and denies, conspiring with others to murder Mr O'Hara on Wednesday April 17, 1991.

Mr O'Hara was dispatched to pick up a fare after a male called the taxi company and asked to be taken from Dunluce Avenue to Casement.

A statement given by a witness - who at the time of the murder was a student living in the area - said he was walking along Dunluce Avenue at around 10.30pm when he saw a car stop in the middle of the road.

He then saw two maked men running towards the car and hid under a parked car when he realised what was happening.

"I then heard a number of shots ring out," he said in a statement.

Like Mr Devine, police have stated Mr O'Hara was an innocent man killed in a purely sectarian murder.

The prosecution case against Mr Rea rests on a series of seven interviews he allegedly gave to the US Boston College as part of their 'Belfast Project'.