Northern Ireland

Boston College Project: Winston Rea 'investigated over serious offences'

Winston Rea Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Winston Rea is among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College's Belfast Project.

A former loyalist prisoner trying to stop police obtaining interviews he gave to a US university project is being investigated over offences of "the utmost gravity" a court has heard.

Counsel for the PSNI said inquiries related to Winston "Winkie" Rea involve a series of incidents.

He said they spanned a period of more than 20 years.

Mr Rea is among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College's Belfast Project.

Last month he secured a temporary injunction as police were set to fly out to collect tapes from his interviews.

The interviews were given to researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland Troubles, on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after their deaths.

However, in 2013 detectives investigating the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price's account.

The material was handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Rea, a former prisoner and son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, is now seeking to judicially review the Public Prosecution Service's attempts to obtain his interviews.

He claims that a subpoena for the material is unlawful and lacking in any specifics about why it is being sought.

'No fishing exercise'

But in the High Court on Wednesday, a lawyer for the chief constable rejected claims that the police were involved in a "fishing exercise".

He told a judge that a letter was sent to the US authorities last September outlining a request for assistance.

"It sets out the identity of the person subject to criminal investigation, that's the applicant in this case," he said.

"It sets out the offences which the PSNI are actively investigating in respect of this matter."

No specific incidents were referred to in court, and Mr Rea has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

However, the lawyer said there was "highly specific information in respect of the potential alleged involvement of the applicant in a series of incidents from the 1970s through to the late 1990s".

He added: "You will see there are matters of the utmost gravity."

Adding that police have a obligation to carry out effective investigations under human rights legislation, the barrister argued that the judicial review application should be heard urgently.

A lawyer for Mr Rea said the alleged incidents were "historic crimes".

He said the information had only been supplied last week.

He told the court: "We are trying to take instructions from the applicant. He has health difficulties."

Following submissions, however, the judge fixed the case for a further hearing on Friday.

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