Ruling stops PSNI flying to US to collect Boston tapes

Former loyalist prisoner Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea gave interviews to US university project

A man walks past graffiti on a wall off the Falls Road, Belfast, in 2014. photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters

A man walks past graffiti on a wall off the Falls Road, Belfast, in 2014. photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters

 

A former loyalist prisoner has secured a High Court order to stop police flying to the US to collect tapes of interviews he gave to a US university project.

Lawyers representing Winston “Winkie” Rea sought an interim injunction after learning that officers were set to travel to Boston this weekend.

Following a hearing in Belfast it was agreed that no handover is to take place before next Thursday, when the case will be mentioned again.

Mr Rea’s solicitor also said the Police Service of Northern Ireland is to provide more specific reasons for why it wants the material gathered by Boston College.

Mr Rea was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies for a project designed to establish an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

Interviews were given on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after their deaths. But those assurances were dealt a blow in 2013 when detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.

Court battles

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

Mr Rea, an ex-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.

Earlier this week it was disclosed in court that the tapes have been passed to US authorities. At that stage Mr Justice Treacy was told there was now nothing preventing the PSNI from travelling to the US to collect it.

However, Mr Rea’s legal team believed nothing would happen before a further hearing listed for next week.

They lodged an emergency application after discovering police were planning to go to Boston on Saturday. It was claimed that without giving full reasons for why the tapes were being sought the move was nothing more than a “fishing exercise”.

The judge then agreed to impose an interim injunction.

Mr Rea’s solicitor, Kevin Winters, said outside court: “This issue about police entitlement to the Boston College archive is a sensitive and difficult one, especially given the political implications.

“This evening’s decision stopping the police flight to Boston confirms just how seriously the court views the basis for the PSNI subpoena.”

He added: “Mr Rea received a fair hearing and is keen to move his challenge to the next stage.”