A prominent Belfast loyalist has demanded that Boston College return interviews he gave as part of its oral history project on the Northern Ireland conflict.
The move by William ‘Plum’ Smith from the Shankill Road area comes during a legal battle continuing for access to interviews given by former IRA members.
These relate to the IRA’s abduction and execution of mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972 — accused by the Provos of being an Army informer.
Some of the Boston interviews reputedly implicate Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in the killing — something he has repeatedly denied.
Now, in another twist, Smith, who chaired the 1994 loyalist ceasefire news conference, has confirmed he has taken legal steps to have his interviews returned
He said: “I’m not concerned about the content.
“I’m concerned about the principle.
“I have asked for the tapes back because Boston College cannot guarantee the basis on which the interviews were given.”
The former Red Hand Commando prisoner, jailed for attempted murder in the early 1970s, was interviewed over several days as part of the college’s Belfast Project.
He agreed to participate, believing his contribution to the archive would remain confidential until after his death.
But the ongoing legal action relating to interviews given by republicans has clearly dented his confidence.
He told the Belfast Telegraph the project has “backfired”.
“How can people speak openly to give future generations the benefit of learning and the chance to analyse events if there’s a constant threat of prosecution hanging over them?” Smith asked.
“I got (solicitor) Kevin Winters to write demanding my interviews back,” he confirmed.
“It’s quite clear if they don’t hand them back, I’ll be taking them to court.”
A second loyalist has confirmed he also wants his material returned.
Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, leader of the Red Hand Commando, said: “If the (Smith) test case wins it becomes a domino effect for others wishing to have their material returned to them.
“If I was asked to make a contribution to further student education projects, unfortunately I would have to seriously consider it.”
Rea, a former prisoner and son-in-law of the late Gusty Spence, had an influential leadership role in the loyalist decisions on ceasefire and decommissioning.
His interview for Boston College lasted several hours.
After the ceasefires, both he and Smith were part of the loyalist delegations involved in the political negotiations, including those leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.