Belfast Telegraph

Yours for just £150... a piece of Gusty Spence’s notorious past

By Ivan Little

A collection of historic documents, photographs and artwork linked to the late UVF leader Gusty Spence is going under the hammer in an auction in Dublin — a city which his loyalist terrorist group bombed nearly 40 years ago killing 26 people and an unborn child.

A large number of people are expected to bid for paintings of and by Spence, his military records, a signed copy of the loyalist ceasefire statement in 1994 and a Maze prison visitor’s permit issued to Secretary of State Merlyn Rees for a meeting with the convicted killer on July 12, 1975.

Rees had lifted the UVF’s status as a proscribed organisation in April 1974, the month before the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

Spence died in September 2011 at the age of 78, leaving behind a vast amount of memorabilia and documents spanning his years, first as a terrorist godfather and then as a peacemaker with the UVF-aligned Progressive Unionist Party.

Among the photographs in the auction at Whyte’s in Dublin’s Molesworth Street on Saturday is one of Spence in his UVF uniform and dark glasses which he signed during his time on the run after he failed to return to jail following his daughter’s wedding in July 1972.

On the back of the picture Spence, who wasn’t recaptured for four months, wrote: “Gusty in freedom 1972”.

One lot is a record of Spence’s service with the British Army. It shows he joined up on May 21, 1957 in Clifton Street in Belfast and reached the rank of corporal during his four years with the Royal Ulster Rifles before ill-health forced him to leave.

Spence’s own book collection, including many on military history, is also in the auction along with documents relating to his visit to America in 1994 shortly after loyalist paramilitaries announced their ceasefire. Among them are his passport and visa which tells him that he must not engage in direct or indirect fundraising while in the States.

Whyte’s estimate that most of the dozen or so Spence lots will go for around £150 each, apart from a painting of him by Shankill artist George Morrow which the auctioneers say may fetch up to £600 and the signed loyalist ceasefire statement which they believe could attract bids of £1,000.

However, a copy of the Good Friday agreement signed by Spence and other participants in the Stormont talks is expected to make between £3,000 and £5,000, according to the auctioneers who say it was put up for sale by a ‘staff member’.

What’s described as a prison art handkerchief made by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Portlaoise jail in 1974 is also in the auction with a sale estimate of £150.

Profile

Gusty Spence was a senior figure in the UVF for more than a decade and was one of the first members to be convicted of murder when the organisation was resurrected in the 1960s. He was jailed for the killing of a young Catholic barman, Peter Ward in 1966. In prison Spence renounced violence and helped to convince a number of fellow inmates that the future of the UVF lay in a more political approach. He later joined the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and took a principal role in delivering the loyalist ceasefires of 1994, announcing its cessation of hostilities.

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