Former loyalist prisoner loses Boston tapes legal challenge
Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea sought to block release of material to police
A man walks past graffiti relating to the Boston College tapes on the Falls Road, west Belfast last year. Photograph: Paul McErlane/EPA
A former loyalist prisoner has lost his legal bid to stop police investigating murder and robbery from obtaining interviews he gave to a US university project.
A Belfast High Court judge on Monday rejected claims that the move was unlawful and breached his rights to privacy.
Dismissing Mr Rea’s challenge, Mr Justice Treacy said: “It’s clear in my view that the applicant is subject to a police investigation into crimes of the gravest kind.”
His ruling clears the way for PSNI detectives to fly to America to take possession of recordings of the loyalist’s interviews.
In a statement issued after the verdict, Mr Rea repeated his claim that police and the Public Prosecution Service were involved in nothing more than a “fishing exercise”.
He was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to researchers compiling 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. 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.
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 is unlawful and unspecific. His barrister claimed the police move was based purely on rumour and a newspaper interview given by Mr Rea and fellow loyalist William “Plum” Smith three years ago.
The court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the 70s to the late 90s. 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 Mr Rea was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into those crimes. It claimed he has “a long involvement in organising and participating in terrorist offences in Northern Ireland, including murder, directing terrorism and robbery”.
He was also alleged to have acted as a personal security guard to Spence and met with former British prime minister John Major in 1996 - a claim disputed by Mr Rea.
Mr Justice Treacy threw out his challenge after holding that the test for seeking the material had been met. He said it was “manifest” from the terms of the request that a police investigation was underway. “The request was plainly lawful,” the judge said. “There is no credible contention that the applicant’s rights (under the European Convention on Human Rights) are infringed.”
Two weeks ago Mr Rea secured a temporary injunction as police were set to board a plane for America to get the tapes. But with his judicial review application dismissed, counsel for the PSNI confirmed that no longer applies.
Tony McGleenan QC said: “There was an order for interim relief made by consent. That is revoked and police are now free to proceed.” The judge replied: “I assume that flows automatically.”