Yesterday in the Belfast High Court, a lawyer for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told a judge that the police require access to interviews allegedly given to a Boston College oral history archive by a former Loyalist prisoner, Winston Rea, because they are investigating offences of “the utmost gravity”.
But so grave are these offences, so vital is it to the well-being of Northern Ireland that they be cleared up, that the PSNI have sat on their hands for almost three years, doing absolutely nothing about them even though they could easily have begun proceedings to acquire the interviews years ago.
Only recently, in the last few months has the PSNI made any move for Mr Rea’s alleged interviews. Why?
Winston Rea revealed his involvement in the Boston College archive in an interview with Brian Rowan, a journalist with The Belfast Telegraph on January 3rd, 2012. That is three years ago. The PSNI have had all that time to lodge a request with the US Department of Justice to obtain the interviews but they did not. Why not?
The PSNI only applied for Mr Rea’s interviews in September 2014, some two years and nine months after the Loyalist disclosed his involvement in the Boston project. They have had nearly three years in which to pursue Mr Rea but only now have they moved against him. Why?
And what has Mr Rea disclosed publicly about the content of his alleged interviews? He told The Belfast Telegraph simply that he wanted his interviews returned to him. So did another Loyalist, William ‘Plum’ Smith who was hiring a lawyer to request his own interviews back.
This is what Mr Rea told Brian Rowan:
“If the (Smith) test case wins it becomes a domino effect for others wishing to have their material returned to them. If I was asked to make a contribution to further student education projects, unfortunately I would have to seriously consider it.”
That is the sum of what Winston Rea has said publicly about his alleged interviews with the Boston Project. Nothing at all about their alleged contents. Nothing to suggest that he talked about offences of “the utmost gravity”.
The PSNI know no more about the contents of the interviews than what he said to The Belfast Telegraph; the PSNI know no more about the contents of the interviews than the average shopper on Royal Avenue. The attempt to obtain his interviews is simply a fishing expedition which threatens the integrity of the judicial process.
The PSNI action can be summarised thus: “Mr Rea has past form for Loyalist activity. He gave interviews. Ergo he must have talked about matters of the utmost gravity. Give us the interviews”. That is called a fishing expedition and that such a sordid tactic has been countenanced by the legal authorities in Northern Ireland is deeply, deeply disturbing. Should it succeed then alarm bells should ring loud and clear.
In a previous posting I suggested that the move against Winston Rea was nothing more than a cynical attempt to balance the pursuit of Republican interviews allegedly concerning the disappearing of Jean McConville with some Loyalist interviews. Mr Rea, having publicly disclosed his involvement and being the son-in-law of the late Gusty Spence was the ideal AND convenient candidate. The fact that he disclosed his involvement, and only that, is the reason why the PSNI are pursuing him.
Back in April of 2014, Thomas P O’Neill III, a son of the former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Trustee Associate of Boston College and a former member of the college’s Board of Trustees, wrote an op-ed for The Boston Globe in which he complained:
“….why, when both sides in the Troubles were guilty of so much wrongdoing, is the British prosecution seemingly intent on only pursuing crimes allegedly committed by only one side?”
Is this effort to obtain Winston Rea’s interview then, an attempt by the PSNI and by the North’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory to satisfy a complaint from the Irish-American establishment that the British are not being even-handed in their pursuit of Boston College’s archive, that if only they included a high profile Prod in their net everything would be fine? Is the judicial process to be manipulated in this sort of way for narrow political gain?
And if that is the case, what has Boston College’s role been in all this? Is it just a coincidence that one of their former Trustees made a complaint upon which the PSNI are now acting?
For reasons that I cannot discuss, I cannot disclose all that is happening in the background. But soon enough, I hope myself and others will be able to speak more freely. Watch this space!