Loyalist begins bid to have murder case thrown out

Posted By: February 28, 2017

Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Evidence test: Loyalist Winston Rea at a court hearing last year Picture: Hugh Russell

Gun attacks: John O’Hara and John Devine were murdered in separate gun attacks more than 20 years ago

A VETERAN loyalist facing prosecution over the murders of two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago could mount a legal bid to have the case thrown out; it emerged yesterday.

Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea’s lawyers told a court they are considering whether to seek a preliminary hearing to test the strength of the evidence against him.

Newly-instructed defense counsel also revealed that they are still to receive papers setting out details of the allegations.

Rea, of Springwell Crescent in Groomsport, Co Down, stands charged with the paramilitary killings of John Devine in 1989 and John O’Hara in 1991.

The 66-year-old is also accused of two other attempted murders, including an attack on Malachy McAllister in the city in October 1988, weapons offenses and membership of the outlawed Red Hand Commando paramilitary group.

Rea was charged in June last year by detectives from the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch investigating killings stretching back into the Troubles. He denies the allegations.

The renewed probe came after police won a legal battle to gain access to interviews he gave to Boston College researchers on a project on the Northern Ireland conflict.

John Devine (37) was shot dead at his home on Fallswater Street in west Belfast on July 23, 1989.

He was sitting in his living room with his 13-year-old son when gunmen forced their way in and killed him.

Taxi driver John O’Hara (41) was murdered at Dunluce Avenue in the south of the city on April 17, 1991.

Other charges brought against Rea include another attempted murder of an unknown male in the city’s Falls Road area sometime between January 1, 1971, and February 23, 1973.

He also faces counts of membership of a proscribed organization on dates between 1973 and 1996, possession of an AK47 assault rifle, three revolvers, a 9mm Browning pistol and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

A further charge of possessing information useful to terrorists relates to claims that between 1984 and 1986 he had documents containing the identification and address details of suspected members of the IRA.

In November last year, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed its intention to take the case to the Crown Court.

But at Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday defense representatives raised the possibility of an attempt to halt the case before it reaches that stage.

Barrister Tom McCreanor, defending, said: “Since we don’t have the papers at this stage, the contents are of some guesswork.”

Requesting a further review in two weeks, he said a decision would be taken then on whether to continue with normal committal proceedings or to seek a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) hearing.

Under the PI route, defense lawyers can test the strength of the evidence in an attempt to secure a ruling that the accused has no case to answer.

With Rea facing continued health issues, his solicitor Pat Kelly obtained permission for him to be excused from attending the next review.