Gusty Spence’s dying wish... no UVF trappings as I am laid to rest
There will be no paramilitary trappings at the Shankill funeral of veteran loyalist Gusty Spence.
In keeping with his wishes, his family is planning to emphasise his British Army rather than his UVF past.
Spence, who was 78, served with the Royal Ulster Rifles between 1957 and 1961. He died in the early hours of yesterday morning.
He had been in poor health and had been admitted to the Ulster Hospital within the past fortnight, where his family had been keeping a bedside vigil.
The one-time UVF leader is remembered for delivering the historic 1994 loyalist ceasefire statement, including its words of remorse offered to the loved ones of all innocent victims.
A decade earlier Spence was freed from jail after serving 18 years for the murder of Catholic teenager Peter Ward, shot dead in 1966.
In a dramatic twist earlier this year, this newspaper reported the conviction had been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission after the Spence family claimed new information had emerged.
Speaking yesterday, Spence's nephew Ed Spence told the Belfast Telegraph the intention is to continue with the review process. “In the interests of justice, I believe the review must carry on and should be pursued with all vigour,” he said.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly described Spence as as “a well-known and influential figure with the UVF”.
He added: “Many nationalists will remember him as central to the sectarianism that gave birth to the modern loyalist paramilitary.
“However, he did dedicate himself to peace and reconciliation for much of his later life.
“So he will also be remembered as a major influence in drawing loyalism away from sectarian strife.”
Former loyalist prisoner William ‘Plum' Smith, who chaired the 1994 ceasefire news conference, described Spence as “the father of loyalism”.
“He was a self-taught, articulate man — very shrewd,” Smith said.
“We were the students of Gusty,” he added.
Speaking to this newspaper, Smith described debates in the jail in the early Seventies in which he said Spence was exploring “a way out of the darkness”.
And he said that prison learning had prepared loyalists for the negotiations of the 1990s and their meetings with presidents and prime ministers.
Spence, he said, had provided loyalism with “direction”.
As well as reading the 1994 ceasefire statement, Spence delivered what was meant to be the UVF endgame declaration in May 2007. But he later criticised the organisation for taking too long to decommission weapons and then condemned the murder of former prisoner Bobby Moffett.
It was after that killing that former Stormont MLA Dawn Purvis resigned her leadership of the Progressive Unionist Party, which had political links to the UVF.
She described Spence as an “influential leader” who had taken loyalism “from a dark place to a better place”. But she accepted there would be “mixed opinions and mixed views”.
“Those who have been affected most by the conflict will see him as part of the loyalist machine that caused death, hurt and destruction,” she said.
Gusty Spence was a key figure in the loyalist war and peace — someone the UVF looked to for credibility.”
Last night his family were making funeral preparations, with one source emphasising the military rather than paramilitary nature of what is planned.
It is understood that his coffin will be draped in the regimental flag of the Royal Ulster Rifles.
In his own words...
1974: “I have been fighting all my life — mostly in the British Army. A person doesn’t fight for fighting’s sake. I want to put the fighting aside. I want to see peace in Northern Ireland.”
– Spence speaking on a tape secretly recorded in the Long Kesh prison camp
1995: “Peace needs constant attention and nourishment and we as political representatives are extremely mindful that attitudes will have to be challenged, barriers will have to be surmounted, calculated chances will have to be taken and courage will have to be shown so that this fragile gift which has been given to us will not be permitted to wither and die.”
– Spence speaking at a rally on the first anniversary of the loyalist ceasefire
2007: “It will be a strange wedding, but there have been other strange weddings in the past. One seems more than willing, while the other is rather shy – but I think they will end up at the altar of political reconciliation.”
– Spence predicting a political deal involving Sinn Fein and the DUP
2010: “I never killed that young fella.”
– Spence commenting before his conviction for the 1966 murder of Peter Ward was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission