Northern Ireland

Loyalist murder suspect Winston Rea dies

Former loyalist prisoner Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea has died (Paul Faith/PA)
Former loyalist prisoner Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea has died (Paul Faith/PA) Former loyalist prisoner Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea has died (Paul Faith/PA)

A veteran loyalist who was facing trial over two Troubles-related murders has died.

Winston “Winkie” Rea from Groomsport in County Down, had denied a number of offences.

Two of the charges against him were for the murders of Catholic men John Devine and John O’Hara more than 30 years ago.

He was also accused of membership of the paramilitary group, the Red Hand Commando.

His trial had been delayed because of his ill health.

A fresh investigation into the two deaths was prompted by information contained on tapes obtained from Boston College in the US.

Ulster diary
Ulster diary Winston Rea helped to bring about the loyalist ceasefires of 1994 (David Young/PA)

In 2001 the college in Massachusetts began 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, as the PSNI were awarded custody of the tapes for investigative purposes.

Rea was jailed for eight years in 1973. Later, he played a role in bringing about the loyalist ceasefires in 1994.

He was part of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) team that took part in negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Rea was in his early 70s at the time of his death.