A former loyalist prisoner seeking to stop police obtaining interviews he gave to a US university project is being investigated in connection with alleged offences of “the utmost gravity”, the High Court has heard.
Counsel for the PSNI said inquiries related to Winston “Winkie” Rea involve a series of incidents over a period spanning more than 20 years.
Last month Rea secured a temporary injunction as police were set to fly out to collect tapes from his interviews with the Boston College project.
He was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to researchers compiling an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict.
Interviews were given on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after their deaths.
But those assurances were dealt a blow in 2013 when detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville back in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price’s account.
That material was handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.
Rea, an ex-prisoner and son-in-law of the late UVF leader Gusty Spence, is now seeking to judicially review the Public Prosecution Service’s attempts to obtain his interviews.
He claims that a subpoena for the material is unlawful and lacking in any specifics about why it is being sought.
But in court on Wednesday Tony McGleenan QC, for the chief constable, rejected claims that police move was nothing more than a “fishing exercise”.
He told Mr Justice Treacy that a letter was sent to the US authorities last September outlining a request for assistance.
“It sets out the identity of the person subject to criminal investigation, that’s the applicant in this case,” he said.
“It sets out the offences which the PSNI are actively investigating in respect of this matter.”
No specific incidents were referred to in court, and Rea has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
However, Mr McGleenan claimed there was “highly specific information in respect of the potential alleged involvement of the applicant in a series of incidents from the 1970s through to the late 1990s”.
He added: “You will see there are matters of the utmost gravity.”
Stressing that police have a obligation to carry out effective investigations under human rights legislation, the barrister argued that the judicial review application should be heard urgently.
Ronan Lavery QC, for Rea, contended that the alleged incidents were “historic crimes”.
He said the information had only been supplied last week.
Mr Lavery told the court: “We are trying to take instructions from the applicant. He has health difficulties.”
Following submissions, however, Mr Justice Treacy fixed the case for a further hearing on Friday.