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Boston College tapes: PSNI wins access to Winston 'Winkie' Rea after court rejects final blocking bid

By Alan Erwin

Published 06/06/2015

Boston College library
Boston College library
Former loyalist prisoner Winston Rea

Police investigating historical paramilitary murders and robberies are to be granted access to interviews a former loyalist prisoner gave to an American university project.

Senior judges sitting in Belfast yesterday lifted an injunction on the PSNI taking possession of the account Winston 'Winkie' Rea gave to Boston College researchers.

Detectives were present with a bag ready for the handover of the tapes, which had been held under lock and key at the Royal Courts of Justice.

They were given the all-clear after lawyers for Rea confirmed their final bid to secure a block had been turned down.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg refused to grant an interim prohibition as part of last-ditch efforts to stop the PSNI accessing the tapes.

Lord Justice Coghlin said: "The time has come for us to lift the injunction and allow the materials to be examined by the police."

Detectives want to listen to the recordings as part of their investigations into murders and other paramilitary crimes committed between the 1970s and 1990s.

But Rea's legal team argued that allowing the police to do so would breach his right to privacy.

Rea was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College staff, who were compiling an oral history of the Troubles.

The interviews were given on the understanding the tapes would not be made public until after the participants' deaths.

But those assurances were dealt a serious blow in 2013 when detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 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.

An international request for Rea's tapes said that police have information he was a member of the Red Hand Commando and that his interviews would assist a number of investigations into serious crimes.

Rea's lawyers claimed that issuing a subpoena for his tapes was unlawful and unspecific, but earlier this year both the High Court and the Court of Appeal rejected that legal argument.

By that stage PSNI detectives had returned from Boston with the recordings, only to be barred from accessing them as the legal battle continued.

It seemed the police would finally get to examine the material last month, when the Supreme Court in London refused to hear a further appeal.

However, an application for an urgent hearing in Strasbourg was then lodged - effectively Rea's last throw of the dice.

Although he remains intent on pursuing a breach of privacy claim at the European court, Rea's request for further interim measures was turned down.

His barrister, Ronan Lavery QC, accepted the injunction would likely be lifted.

But he insisted: "The appellant is confident that there is nothing in his past or anything contained in these tapes which hasn't already been dealt with by the criminal courts. There's nothing which would lead to any kind of prosecution.

"He's entitled to a determination and confirmation that there will be no prosecution within a short period of time. He's a man who has health difficulties."

On that basis, lawyers for both the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and the Chief Constable argued that the recordings should be released.

Peter Coll QC, representing the PPS, told the court: "The matter has now reached the stage where the options for the appellant have effectively run out."

And Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, backed the call for the ban to be lifted. He said: "Detectives are available in the building to obtain the tapes if the court can make the administrative steps."

Lord Justice Coghlin, sitting with Mr Justice Maguire, pointed out that the case had passed through several layers of judicial consideration in both Belfast and London.

He added: "Accordingly, we now lift the injunction formally in relation to the Boston Tapes in this case.

"I understand the tapes physically are somewhere within this building."

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