High-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea is denying charges of murdering two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago, a court heard today.
The 65-year-old stands accused of the paramilitary killings of John Devine in 1989 and John O’Hara in 1991.
Rea, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, faces a total of 12 charges, including two other attempted murders, weapons offences and membership of the outlawed Red Hand Commando terror grouping.
Appearing before Belfast Magistrates’ Court on a wheelchair, he was granted bail on condition that he surrenders his passport.
Detectives from the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch arrested the loyalist last Tuesday as part of a re-examination of murders stretching back into the Troubles.
The fresh probe came after police won a legal battle to gain access to interviews Rea 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 brought against Rea include the attempted murders of Malachy McAllister in Belfast on October 2, 1988, and 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.
As Rea was wheeled into the dock by prison staff, his family and some victims’ relatives were said to be in the public gallery.
Questioned by a defence lawyer, an investigating detective confirmed Rea made no admissions throughout 32 police interviews.
It was also disclosed that during the final interview the accused made a statement of denial.
Rea’s lawyer stressed that all the charges against his client date back to before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
He added that the accused is now suffering from a raft of physical ailments.
Granting bail, District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to excuse Rea from attending the next hearing in eight weeks time.
She released him on a £500 surety and banned him from any contact with prosecution witnesses.
Rea must also notify police if he plans to be away from his home address for more than 24 hours.