Northern Ireland

Winston Rea Boston College tapes to be stored at Belfast court

Winston Rea Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Winston Rea is trying to stop the PSNI from accessing his Boston College tapes

Sealed tapes of interviews given by a former loyalist prisoner to a university project will not now be held on American territory in Belfast.

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

Mr Rea is trying to stop police from listening to the tapes.

The sealed tapes will now be stored at the Royal Courts of Justice rather than the US consulate building in Belfast.

Senior judges had ordered that PSNI detectives could fly back from Boston on Saturday with the recordings.

They directed that the testimonies must remain unopened and then be handed over to the US Consulate in Belfast until a decision is reached in the legal action.

But those conditions were varied late on Friday night due to difficulties in arranging to have the sealed container lodged with American representatives.

Mr Rea is appealing a failed High Court bid to prevent police investigating murder and other paramilitary crimes from accessing the tapes.

'Not happy'

His lawyers expressed concern at the new plans that mean the recordings will no longer be on US soil.

In correspondence to the Crown Solicitors Office, one of his legal representatives said: "We are not happy with the tapes being within the jurisdiction as this could lead to an abuse of process."

The interviews to Boston College were given on the understanding that tapes would not be made public until after the former paramilitaries' deaths.

But those assurances were dealt a blow in 2013 when detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Belfast mother-of-ten Jean McConville back in 1972 secured the transcripts of former IRA woman Dolours Price's account.

Image caption Loyalists and republicans gave interviews to Boston College

That material was handed over following court battles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Rea claimed a subpoena for his tapes is unlawful and unspecific.

During judicial review proceedings the court was told an investigation has been launched into serious crimes stretching from the seventies to the late nineties.

The alleged offences include murder, directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and robbery.

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

On Monday, a judge in Belfast threw out Mr Rea's challenge to police accessing the tapes after holding that the legal test for seeking the material had been met.


Following that verdict two PSNI detectives boarded a flight to Boston to collect the recordings.

But with their flight mid-Atlantic Mr Rea's legal team secured a last-minute order restraining any handover while they contested the ruling.

In the Court of Appeal on Friday counsel for the loyalist argued that prosecuting authorities were acting on a hunch rather than any firm knowledge that the tapes contain 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.

However, a barrister representing the Public Prosecution Service claimed Rea had no reasonable expectation of privacy around what he told the Boston researchers.

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

At that stage they agreed to lift the injunction so that PSNI officers travelling back from Boston on Saturday can bring the unopened tapes with them.

The material was to be deposited with the American Consulate and remain on American territory until a decision is given in the appeal.

Now, however, the sealed container will be guarded by senior court officers.

On Saturday, one of Mr Rea's supporters, William 'Plum' Smith, who also took part in the Boston project, said loyalists believe the latest move amounts to "political tit-for-tat".

"We see this as purely a balancing exercise," he added.

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