Loyalist Winston Rea faces two Troubles-era murder charges

Winston 'Winkie' Rea
Winston 'Winkie' Rea

A 65-year-old man will appear in Laganside Magistrates’ Court in Belfast on Monday, charged with a string of offences – including two murders.

Winston Rea – a long-standing loyalist figure – had been arrested and questioned on Tuesday, and on Friday detectives had gained an additional 80 hours to quiz him.

Victim John Benedict Devine

Victim John Benedict Devine

The two men whose murders he is alleged to be connected with are John Benedict Devine, killed in west Belfast on July 23 1989, and John Joseph Gerard O’Hara, killed in south Belfast on April 17, 1991.

A fresh investigation into the two deaths was prompted by information contained on tapes obtained from Boston College in the US.

In 2001 the college in Massachusetts commenced a five-year oral history project aimed at documenting perspectives on the Troubles from those involved in the conflict.

Former paramilitaries, both republican and loyalist, were interviewed about their roles in the 40 years of violence which blighted Northern Ireland on the understanding that their accounts would not be made public until after their deaths.

Victim John Joseph Gerard O'Hara

Victim John Joseph Gerard O'Hara

But subsequent court rulings in the US have rendered that undertaking useless, as the PSNI were awarded custody of the tapes for investigative purposes.

Mr O’Hara is listed by Lost Lives – a compendium of Troubles murders – as a 41-year-old civilian taxi driver with five children.

It states that he had lived in the Short Strand area of Belfast.

His car kept driving down the street after he was shot, and then crashed. A passing nurse tried to aid him, but it quotes her as saying she knew he had “no mission” of survival.

CAVALIER TAXI IN WHICH JOHN O'HARA WAS DRIVING WHEN HE WAS SHOT DEAD IN SOUTH BELFAST (Pacemaker archive)

CAVALIER TAXI IN WHICH JOHN O'HARA WAS DRIVING WHEN HE WAS SHOT DEAD IN SOUTH BELFAST (Pacemaker archive)

It also quotes a priest at his funeral, who described him as a “totally innocent victim”.

It was the second time his wife had been bereaved. Her first husband had been murdered 16 years earlier.

Lost Lives lists John Devine as a 37-year-old Catholic civilian, who worked as a “coalman”.

It says that he was shot eight times off the Falls Road in west belfast as he was reading a newspaper with his 13-year-old son.

It states that a detective told an inquest there was no indication he was involved in republican activity, adding that a coroner had said he had friends on both sides of the communuity.