Ex-loyalist seeks emergency hearing to block Boston tapes

Winston 'Winkie' Rea
Winston 'Winkie' Rea

A former loyalist prisoner battling to stop police accessing his interviews with an American university project has been given two weeks to secure a final block.

Winston “Winkie” Rea is seeking an emergency hearing before the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all domestic options in his legal fight.

Counsel for the PSNI on Thursday urged senior judges in Belfast to lift an injunction on them taking possession of the Boston College tapes.

But instead Rea’s legal team were told they have a fortnight to secure a further interim prohibition as part of last-ditch efforts to stop detectives from listening in.

Adjourning the case until next month, Lord Justice Coghlin said: “That will be more than adequate for the Strasbourg Court to come to a decision on the interim measures.”

Until then the tapes are to remain under lock and key at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

Police want to access the recordings as part of their investigations into murder and other paramilitary crimes from the 1970s to 1990s.

But Rea’s lawyers argue that it would breach his right to privacy.

He was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College 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.

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.

An international request for Rea’s tapes said police have information that he was a member of the Red Hand Commando whose interviews would assist investigations into serious crimes.

His lawyers claimed a subpoena for his tapes is unlawful and unspecific.

Earlier this year both the High Court and Court of Appeal rejected his challenge.

By that stage PSNI detectives had returned from Boston with the recordings – only to be barred from accessing them while the legal battle continued.

On Monday it seemed they would finally get to examine the material after the Supreme Court in London refused to hear a further appeal.

However, an application for an urgent hearing in Strasbourg has now been lodged – effectively Rea’s last throw of the dice.

His barrister on Thursday asked the Court of Appeal to deny access to private information until that is decided.

Ronan Lavery QC argued: “There’s no danger of this evidence perishing. It’s safe within the confines of this building.”

But Tony McGleenan QC, for the Chief Constable, claimed Rea was seeking measures normally only granted in extradition and life-or-death situations.

“There’s not a risk of torture or deportation to a country ruled by tyrants,” he contended.

“The height of the exposure and risk is that there will potentially be a proper prosecutorial process in this jurisdiction.”

Adjourning the application, Lord Justice Coghlin said: “It would be unsatisfactory if this court were to presume that the Strasbourg Court will act in a particular way.”

He added: “It should be clear... that there is a strong case to be made on behalf of the state as well as on behalf of the applicant.