Belfast Telegraph

Shankill shuts to pay its last respects to UVF chief Gusty Spence

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Hundreds of mourners attending the funeral of the UVF founding father, Gusty Spence, were yesterday told to ‘beware of super-Prods’.

Former PUP Assembly member Dawn Purvis told a packed St Michael’s Church, off the Shankill Road in Belfast, how she had been “inspired” by the 78-year-old loyalist who said some people would never take the necessary risks for peace.

“There are plenty of super-Prods about,” she said. “There’s one on (Radio Ulster’s) Nolan every day spouting about something. You don’t have to look too far for others - recently another one labelled a Presbyterian minister a ‘Lundy’. And, many more will emerge as the decade of centenaries takes place. Super-Prods don’t make peace, they won’t roll their sleeves up, they won’t take the risks necessary. As Gusty said, ‘beware the super-Prods’.”

In keeping with his wishes, there were no paramilitary trappings at the service. His coffin was draped with the beret and regimental flag of the Royal Ulster Rifles with which Spence had served between 1957 and 1961.

Nine elderly army veterans formed a guard of honour as his coffin was carried into the Church of Ireland to a recording by country singer, Garth Brooks.

Spence, who had been jailed for the 1966 murder of a Catholic teenager, died in hospital at the weekend after a lengthy illness. He will be remembered for delivering the landmark loyalist ceasefire statement including its words of remorse.

“Much has been said about Gusty Spence, some good, some not so good,” added Ms Purvis. “People are entitled to their opinions. Gusty was a man of war, but he was also a man of peace. My experience of Gusty was of a great man, a man who was involved in conflict and who worked tirelessly for peace; a man committed to social and economic justice and equality; and a man absolutely devoted and committed to his wife and family.

“Gusty has never denied his involvement in the UVF, but he has always been adamant that he never killed Peter Ward.”

Paramilitary leaders including Jackie McDonald and UVF chief John ‘Bunter’ Graham were among the mourners who had gathered outside the small, red brick church. Politicians including Ulster Unionsts Mike Nesbitt and Michael McGimpsey and Fred Cobain were in attendance, as well as the PUP’s Hugh Smyth, John Kyle and Jim Wilson and the former head of the Civil Service Maurice Hayes. David Ervine’s widow Jeanette entered the church clutching a copy of the Gusty Spence biography written by Roy Garland. However, unlike at the funeral of loyalist David Ervine, no Sinn Fein members were present.

Gusty’s nephew, Ed Spence, seized the opportunity to brand his uncle’s imprisonment a “travesty of justice”, citing “political and judicial connivance” as the reason for his detention.

He said the family would continue the fight “with vigour” to clear his name through the Criminal Cases Review Body.

Also addressing the congregation was Spence’s granddaughter, Louise Little, who recalled how the senior loyalist had been “funny both intentionally and unintentionally”.

She said that that shortly after Spence’s release from Long Kesh, he had fed his grandchildren “dog biscuits”, believing they were chocolate buttons, then broke down as she recalled the family’s “pain”.

After the hour-and-a-half long service thousands of people lined the Shankill Road, shops pulled their shutters down and traffic came to a standstill as Gusty Spence’s coffin was carried up towards Tenant Street.

He was laid to rest in Bangor after a private family burial ceremony on the 99th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph