Boston tapes will not be held in US Consulate in Belfast
Judge varies order due to difficulties lodging sealed container with US representatives
A US jusge has ordered that the Boston College tapes be taken to the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast and placed in secure storage there.
Sealed tapes of interviews given by a former loyalist prisoner to a university project will not now be held on American territory in Belfast.
Senior judges had ordered that PSNI detectives could fly back from Boston on Saturday with the recordings Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea is battling to stop them from inspecting.
They had directed that the testimonies remain unopened and be handed over to the US Consulate in Belfast until a decision was reached in the legal action.
However, those conditions were varied late last night due to difficulties in arranging to have the sealed container lodged with American representatives.
Instead, an amended order was made for the tapes to be taken to the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast and placed in secure storage there.
Mr Rea’s lawyers have expressed deep concern at the new plans which mean the recordings will no longer be on US soil.
In correspondence to the Crown Solicitors Office one of his legal representatives said: “We are not happy with the tapes being within the jurisdiction as this could lead to an abuse of process.”
Mr Rea is appealing a failed High Court bid to prevent police investigating murder and other paramilitary crimes from accessing the tapes.
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-ten Jean McConville back in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.
That material was handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.
Mr Rea, a son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, claimed a subpoena for his tapes was unlawful and unspecific.
During judicial review proceedings the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the seventies to the late nineties.
The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.
An international request for the tapes said police have information that alleged Mr Rea had been a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes.
On Monday Mr Justice Treacy threw out his challenge after holding that the legal test for seeking the material had been met.
Following that verdict two PSNI detectives boarded a flight to Boston to collect the recordings.
But with their flight over the Atlantic Mr Rea’s legal team secured a last-minute order restraining any handover while they contested the ruling.
In the Court of Appeal on Friday counsel for the loyalist, argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contained information relevant to any investigation.
He also claimed the request, made under the Crime (International Co-operation) Act, breached Mr Rea’s right to privacy under European law.
However, a barrister representing the Public Prosecution Service claimed Mr Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy around what he told the Boston researchers.
The three judges hearing the appeal reserved their decision until early next week.
At that stage they agreed to lift the injunction so that PSNI officers travelling back from Boston today can bring the unopened tapes with them.
The material was to be deposited with the American Consulate and remain on American territory until a decision is given in the appeal.
Now, however, the sealed container will be guarded by senior court officers.
Mr Rea’s solicitor, Kevin Winters, stressed: “We have asked for an affidavit confirming the safe receipt of the tapes and that they are sealed and in the possession of the court.”