The trial of senior loyalist Winston Churchill Rea, delayed over legal arguments, his continued ill-health and the Covid-19 pandemic, finally got underway today.
The 69-year-old wheelchair-bound pensioner, and alleged Red Hand Commando chief, known as 'Winkie Rea', from the Springwell Road, in Groomsport, Co Down, faces up to 19 charges grounded on those interviews.
His Diplock-style no-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court before Mr Justice McAlinden was told the seven Boston College taped interviews, made in June 2005, "included admissions by him to a variety of criminal offences" committed from 1973 to 1996.
Mr Rea denies all the charges including aiding, abetting and conspiring to murder Catholic men John Devine in July 1989 and John O'Hara in April 1991, and conspiring to threaten to kill LVF leader Billy Wright in August 1996.
He has also pleaded not guilty to attempted murders and other terror-related offences, including RHC membership, targeting those selling the IRA paper An Phoblacht, conspiring to possess firearms, including those secured by the Ulster Resistance paramilitary group, and collecting information useful to terrorists.
Opening the prosecution opening, a Crown lawyer said Mr Rea admitted taking part in "an academic oral history project known as the Belfast Project", which he understood would remain confidential until after his death.
Counsel said that the alleged admissions made by Mr Rea as 'Interviewee L' on the tapes, "form the subject matter of the indictment. The prosecution contend that Interviewee L was the defendant, Winston Rea".
Mr Rea was allegedly one of a number of former paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican who gave taped interviews about involvement in terrorism, which were then deposited in the Burns Library at Boston College.
Evidence linking him to the tapes allegedly include his handwriting from authorisations he gave to his solicitor and his admissions Mr Rea was 'L'. The defendant's admissions made in previous court hearings; personal details, including references to himself as 'Winkie'; details of events he was known to be involved in, and finally voice analysis which "concluded that the speaker in the Boston recordings was ‘highly likely’ to be Winston Rea".
Mr Justice McAlinden was told the existence of the Boston College project was revealed in a 2010 book by journalist Ed Moloney entitled "Voices from the Grave".
As a result a successful request was made to the US authorities for those portions of the project involving Mr Rea which included the seven interview recordings and transcripts with “Interviewee L” .
Having given a general overview of the Boston Tapes, and how they could be allegedly linked to Mr Rea, Counsel then began to detail the various charges faced by the pensioner.
The case continues.