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Winston 'Winkie' Rea handed files on loyalist paramilitary killings

By Alan Erwin

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

Winston "Winkie" Rea was handed files prepared by the prosecution over the separate paramilitary killings of Catholic workmen John Devine and John O'Hara more than 25 years ago at a hearing on Tuesday.

The 66-year-old, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, arrived on a wheelchair for the latest development in 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 Billy Wright.

Family members wheeled him into Belfast Magistrates' Court after he had been ordered to attend amid wrangling over documents in the case.

Defence barrister Tom McCreanor confirmed: "The papers have been served this morning on Mr Rea.

"We are now in receipt of those papers and would require some times to consider the contents and references to any exhibits."

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.

Mr 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.

Mr O'Hara, a 41-year-old taxi driver, 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.

Rea is now charged with conspiring in their 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 American 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 strength of the evidence will be set out.

She told Rea he is excused from attending that hearing on medical grounds.

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