Loyalist charged with murders of two Catholic men during Troubles

Down man also charged with attempted murders and possession of guns and rifle

Belfast loyalist Winston Rea at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday. He denies the 12 charges against him and has been granted bail. Photograph: Pacemaker

Belfast loyalist Winston Rea at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday. He denies the 12 charges against him and has been granted bail. Photograph: Pacemaker

 

A high-profile loyalist has denied charges of murdering two Catholic men in Belfast more than 25 years ago. Winston “Winkie” Rea (65) is accused of the paramilitary killings of John Devine in 1989 and John O’Hara in 1991.

Mr Rea, Springwell Crescent, Groomsport, Co Down, faces 12 charges, including two other attempted murders, weapons offences and membership of the outlawed Red Hand Commando terror grouping.

Appearing before Belfast Magistrates Court in a wheelchair on Monday, he was granted bail on condition that he surrendered his passport.

Detectives from the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch arrested the loyalist last Tuesday as part of a re-examination of murders from the Troubles.

The fresh investigation came after police won a legal battle to gain access to interviews Mr Rea gave to Boston College researchers behind a project on the Northern Ireland conflict.

Mr Devine (37) was shot dead at his home on Fallswater Street in west Belfast on July 23rd, 1989. He was sitting in his living room with his 13-year-old son when gunmen forced their way in and killed him.

Mr O’Hara (41) was murdered at Dunluce Avenue in the south of the city on April 17th, 1991. A taxi driver, he was en route to pick up a passenger when two masked men approached and fired several shots at his car, fatally injuring him.

Other charges brought against Mr Rea include the attempted murders of Malachy McAllister in Belfast on October 2, 1988, and of an unknown male in the Falls Road area between January 1st, 1971 and February 23rd, 1973.

He also faces counts of membership of a proscribed organisation between 1973 and 1996, possession of an AK47 assault rifle, three revolvers, a 9mm Browning pistol and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

A further charge of possessing information useful to terrorists relates to claims that between 1984 and 1986, he had documents containing the identification and address details of suspected members of the IRA.

Questioned by a defence lawyer, an investigating detective confirmed that Mr Rea made no admissions throughout 32 police interviews. It was also disclosed that during the final interview, he made a statement of denial.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to excuse Mr Rea from attending the next hearing in eight weeks. She released him on bail on a £500 surety and banned him from any contact with prosecution witnesses. Mr Rea must also notify police if he plans to be away from his home address for more than 24 hours.