Northern Ireland

Boston College Project: Winston Rea tapes to return to NI unopened

Winston Rea Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Winston Rea was among dozens of loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College researchers for an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict

Northern Ireland police officers have been granted the right to return from the US with sealed tapes of interviews given by an ex-loyalist prisoner to an American university.

Winston Rea was one of dozens of former paramilitaries who provided testimonies about the Northern Ireland Troubles to Boston College's Belfast Project.

On Monday, he lost a court bid to stop the PSNI accessing the interviews.

But as police flew to Boston, Mr Rea won an emergency restraining order.

Now, the Court of Appeal sitting in Belfast has lifted an injunction so that two PSNI detectives in Boston can return on Saturday with the tapes that Mr Rea is battling to stop them from inspecting.

Senior judges ordered that the recordings were to remain sealed and then handed over to the US Consulate in Belfast until a decision is reached in the legal action.

It means that the tapes remain on American territory until the three judges give their ruling.

Mr Rea's lawyers had taken the case to the Court of Appeal after their challenge was thrown out by a High Court judge in Belfast on Monday.

'Right to privacy'

The PSNI detectives' flight was mid-Atlantic when Court of Appeal judges issued their ruling, banning police from taking possession of the recordings until at least Friday.

Mr Rea was among loyalists and republicans who provided testimonies to Boston College researchers for an oral history project on the Northern Ireland conflict.

The interviews were given on the understanding that the tapes would not be made public until after the participants' deaths.

However, the researchers' assurances were dealt a blow in 2013 when PSNI detectives investigating the murder of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville in 1972 secured the transcripts of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price.

The Price interviews were handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Rea, a former loyalist prisoner, had sought a judicial review of the Public Prosecution Service's (PPS) attempts to obtain his interviews.

In the Court of Appeal on Friday, Ronan Lavery QC, for Mr Rea, argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contained information relevant to any investigation.

He also claimed the request, made under the Crime (International Co-operation) Act, breached Mr Rea's right to privacy under European law.

"This cannot be a charter to snoop on material that falls outside the EU guidelines," he said.

However, Peter Coll QC, representing the PPS said Mr Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy surrounding what he told the Boston researchers.

"He was not given a cast-iron, boiler-plated guarantee that whatever he said would, until the time of his death, be protected from all outside influences," he said.

The three judges hearing the appeal reserved their decision until early next week.

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