‘New information’ may clear Gusty Spence of 1966 gun killing
Decades after being jailed for a sectarian street murder, there has been a dramatic new twist in the case of one-time UVF leader Gusty Spence.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that he has now written to the Criminal Cases Review Commission asking it to investigate information made available to his family through a third party.
In 1966 Spence, now 77, was jailed for the murder of a young Catholic barman — the second killing of the Troubles.
Peter Ward, who was just 18, was shot dead and two other men wounded when loyalists opened fire as the friends left the Malvern Arms in the Shankill area in the early hours of June 26, 1966.
Spence was given a life sentence with a stipulation that he serve a minimum of 20 years.
He was eventually released in December 1984 and has always claimed he was innocent.
“New information has come to light that we believe throws doubt on the conviction,” Spence’s nephew Ed Spence told this newspaper. “We are asking the CCRC to investigate.”
That “new information” is understood to be a letter sent to the Home Office months after the trial raising concerns specifically about the Spence guilty verdict.
Some months ago the third party is understood to have alerted the Spence family to the letter.
This newspaper knows the identity of its author and the concerns he says he raised, but for legal reasons cannot report that information.
Spence’s application to the CCRC was made on January 4 — a move that came after correspondence between his nephew and the North Down MP Lady Hermon and Justice Minister David Ford.
In October last year a letter was sent to the Belfast Telegraph pointing to developments in the case. Other journalists were also contacted.
At the time Gusty Spence said: “I never killed that young fella.”
He told this newspaper he would argue his innocence “to my dying day”.
Asked about developments in his case, he said: “The overriding thing, I don’t want that wee gentle lady Mrs Ward (Peter Ward’s mother) hurt any more than she has been.”
In his application to the CCRC, Spence wrote: “This application to the Commission might finally assist to uncover some truth and hopefully, in turn, justice after almost 45 years.”
His son-in-law, the Red Hand Commando leader Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, accepts that recent developments “may change nothing”. He said: “Everything hangs on the honest co-operation of the Home Office.
“They should leave no stone unturned until they find the letter,” he said.