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Winston 'Winkie' Rea facing prosecution over murder of two Catholics could mount legal bid to get case thrown out

Loyalist Winston "Winkie" Rea, who is facing prosecution over the murders of two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago, could mount a legal bid to have the case thrown out, it emerged on Monday.

Rea's lawyers told a court they are considering whether to seek a preliminary hearing to test the strength of the evidence against him.

Newly-instructed defence counsel also revealed that they are still to receive papers setting out details of the allegations.

Rea, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, currently stands charged with the paramilitary killings of John Devine in 1989 and John O'Hara in 1991.

The 66-year-old is also accused of two other attempted murders, including an attack on Malachy McAllister in the city in October 1988, weapons offences and membership of the outlawed Red Hand Commando terror grouping.

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 behind a project on the Northern Ireland conflict.

John Devine, 37, was shot dead at his home on Fallswater Street in west Belfast on July 23, 1989.

He was sitting in his living room with his 13-year-old son when gunmen forced their way in and killed him.

Taxi driver John O'Hara, 41, was murdered at Dunluce Avenue in  the south of the city on April 17, 1991.

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 currently brought against Rea include another attempted murder of an unknown male in the city's Falls Road area sometime between January 1, 1971 and February 23, 1973.

He also faces counts of membership of a proscribed organisation on dates 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.

In November last year the Public Prosecution Service confirmed its intention to take the case to the Crown Court.

A PPS lawyer indicated at that stage that it wanted to put him on trial for offences related to the murders and a "multitude" of other counts.

But at Belfast Magistrates' Court today defence representatives raised the possibility of an attempt to halt the case before it reaches that stage.

Barrister Tom McCreanor said: "Since we don't have the papers at this stage, the contents are of some guesswork."

Requesting a further review in two weeks, he said a decision would be taken then on whether to continue with normal committal proceedings or to seek a Preliminary INquiry (PI) hearing.

Under the PI route defence lawyers can test the strength of the evidence in an attempt to secure a ruling that the accused has no case to answer.

With Rea facing continued health issues, his solicitor Pat Kelly obtained permission for him to be excused from attending the next review.

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