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Winston Rea lawyers come off case citing 'professional conflict issues'

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Winston Rea has denied all the charges (David Young/PA)

Winston Rea has denied all the charges (David Young/PA)

Winston Rea has denied all the charges (David Young/PA)

Lawyers acting for a senior loyalist dramatically came out of his case citing "professional conflict issues''.

Winston Churchill Rea is awaiting trial on a total of 19 charges brought as result of his interview he gave to Boston College researchers behind a project on the Northern Ireland conflict involving both republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr Rea (69), of Springwell Road in Groomsport, Co Down, denies all the charges which the Crown claims were committed between 1973 and 1996.

Included in the charges faced by 'Winkie' Rea are conspiring to murder Catholic men John Devine in July 1989 and John O'Hara in April 1991.

Mr Devine (37) was shot in front of his teenage son in west Belfast while Mr O'Hara, a 41-year-old taxi driver, was lured to his murder in the south of the city.

Rea has also been charged with conspiring with others to threaten to kill LVF leader Billy Wright in August 1996.

He also pleaded not guilty to firearms and other terror-related charges, including conspiring to possess firearms secured from the Ulster Resistance paramilitary group on dates between November 1986 and October 1994.

The pensioner is further charged with encouraging the murder of "persons working in shops selling An Phoblacht in republican and nationalist areas" between November 1977 and October 1994.

During a short hearing before Crown Court judge Mr Justice McAlinden sitting in the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday, Rea's senior counsel Arthur Harvey QC told a packed courtroom: "I have an application on behalf of myself, my junior Mr Duffy and our instructing solicitors, McConnell Kelly, that we 'come off record' in this case.

"We were served with material by the prosecution on Monday of this week. That material has given rise to a number of issues and those issues involve a professional conflict.''

Stating that those "professional conflict issues were irreconcilable by our continued representations in this case'', Mr Harvey said in that regard he was making the application to come out of the case.

He added: "We have spoken to the defendant about this matter.''

Senior prosecution lawyer David McDowell QC told Mr Justice McAlinden that if the defence application to 'come off record' was allowed, "it is our view that the trial should proceed next month on April 20. That gives just five weeks from now.''

He added: "There has been other junior counsel in this case before and any senior (counsel) would be in a position to proceed on that date.''

Mr Justice McAlinden said the court had considered the material provided by the prosecution during an 'Abuse of Process' application moved by Rea's defence lawyers.

"Having regard to the nature and content of that material, a video, it is abundantly clear to the court why Mr Harvey would be making this application at this particular time.

"It is abundantly clear to the court that Mr Harvey, his junior counsel and instructing solicitors find themselves in professional difficulties.

"In the circumstances the court would be compelled to grant such an application and it is only right and proper that they are entitled to take this course of action. That leaves the defendant, Mr Winston Churchill Rea, without legal representation.''

The judge said that given the "legal complexities of the case it would be very difficult for a new legal team to work their way'' through the papers ahead of the April 20 trial date.

Mr Justice McAlinden added that he would put the case back for seven days to allow Rea to acquire new legal representation and attend court with his lawyers at the next hearing.

The Boston College tapes were part of an oral history project of the Troubles in Northern Ireland from the 1970s through to the 1990s when ceasefires were called.

More than 40 former gunmen and bombers gave interviews and personal accounts to college researchers working on the so-called 'Belfast Project'.

It was intended their accounts would not be released without their permission or until after their deaths.

After a legal battle, the PSNI gained access to some of the tapes. In 2011, the PSNI went to court in the United States and eventually won access to 11 out of hundreds of interviews carried out by the researchers.

Belfast Telegraph