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Loyalist Rea wheeled into court to have files served

By Alan Erwin

A veteran loyalist charged in connection with two murders appeared in a court yesterday to receive the evidence against him.

Winston 'Winkie' Rea was handed files prepared by the prosecution over the separate terrorist killings of Catholic workmen John Devine and John O'Hara more than 25 years ago.

The 66-year-old, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, arrived at Belfast Magistrates Court in a wheelchair for the latest part of the case against him. He faces a catalogue of charges, including conspiracy to murder and aiding and abetting in murder.

Rea is also accused of weapons offences, membership of the outlawed Red Hand Commando terror grouping, and conspiring in a threat to kill notorious LVF leader Billy Wright.

Defence barrister Tom McCreanor confirmed that the papers had been served on Rea.

Rea was charged in June last year by detectives from the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch investigating killings stretching back into the Troubles.

He denies the allegations.

The renewed probe came after police won a legal battle to gain access to interviews he gave to Boston College researchers for a project on the Troubles.

Rea is now charged with conspiring in the Devine and O'Hara killings, rather than actually carrying out the murders.

Other alleged offences cover a period from the attempted murder of an unknown male on Belfast's Falls Road between July 1971 and February 1973, to the conspiracy to threaten Wright in August 1996.

Attempts to hold a preliminary enquiry have been delayed amid claims that defence lawyers were refusing to sign an undertaking about the handling of US documents in the case.

But the prosecution is now understood to have revised the papers so they could be presented to the accused.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall listed the case for a further review in May, when any challenge to the evidence will be set out. She told Rea he was excused from attending that hearing on medical grounds.

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