Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Convicted rapist was member of UVF-linked government-funded justice group

 

By Ciaran Barnes Chief Reporter, Sunday Life

A convicted gang rapist sat on the management committee of a government-funded group set up to help the vulnerable.

Sunday Life can reveal that sex offender Gerry Spence was among 13 community appointees to North Belfast Alternatives - a UVF-linked restorative justice group that was handed £23,000 of public money last year.

The predator's name was listed on the charity's official website alongside that of teachers and church leaders until last Friday when we asked the organisation who approved his appointment. Alternatives replied claiming that its website needed updating and Spence had left.

Spokeswoman Debbie Waters said: "Mr Spence became a member in 2017 and resigned a number of months later. To reflect this change, we will update our website accordingly."

Spence (58) - nephew of late UVF chief Gusty Spence - was jailed for eight years in the early 1980s for being part of a four-man gang that raped a young woman on playing fields near Ballysillan Leisure Centre.

North Belfast Alternatives' new office on the Ballysillan Road is just yards away from the spot where the sickening sex attack occurred.

After being charged with rape, Spence denied involvement, but entered a guilty plea on the eve of his trial to avoid the lurid details of his crime being made public.

In an interview with this newspaper in 2010, the brother of the rape victim revealed the trauma and "mental torture" it caused his sister.

He said: "She had to move out of north Belfast and even though it happened 30 years ago she is still scarred.

"Gerry Spence and his cronies tried to make out that the sex was consensual but they all ended up pleading guilty before their trial."

Spence, who is from a prominent loyalist family, served part of his prison sentence for rape on the UVF wing of the Maze prison.

After getting out of jail, he was caged for a further 15 years in 1988 for conspiracy to murder after police caught him in a car with a machine gun.

He was part of a UVF gang that was on its way to shoot leading north Belfast republican Anthony 'Booster' Hughes.

Due to his status as a former loyalist prisoner, Spence found a role in North Belfast Alternatives, which tries to broker resolutions to disputes in loyalist areas without involving the police.

Last year, it pulled in £23,000 in public and charitable funding from Belfast City Council, the Housing Executive and George Williams College. Its parent body NI Alternatives received more than £1m from government and charitable funds.

The group's director Tom Winstone, a convicted double killer, was on the UVF wing of the Maze prison alongside Gerry Spence in the 1980s and has known for decades the loyalist is a gang rapist.

Alternatives is refusing to say who approved Spence's appointment to the North Belfast management committee, restating only that he is no longer a member.

According to its end-of-year Trustee Report, the oversight body meets six times per year. Along with the other members, Gerry Spence, who also works for the Wheatfield Action Project, had responsibility for "the strategic direction and policy of the charity". The report adds that the committee has "members from a variety of professional backgrounds relevant to work with the charity".

North Belfast Alternatives says it is committed to "promoting a non-violent restorative community response to justice issues in north Belfast". It also pledges to "help and work with young people in order to resolve the problems affecting their lives".

According to UVF sources, Spence was given a "bye-ball" by the terror gang because of his family's strong loyalist connections. They say that after he served his rape sentence he would have done anything to get back in the UVF fold.

In 1988 - the same year that Spence was convicted of trying to murder republican Anthony 'Booster' Hughes - he was acquitted of killing Ardoyne IRA leader Larry Marley.

In 1999, the sex offender took part in journalist Peter Taylor's acclaimed Loyalists television programme in which former UVF and UDA men talked about their lives as paramilitaries.

In a candid interview, Spence recalled holding a gun for the first time.

He said: "It was like a feeling nobody could touch me. It just felt like I was a soldier and that was it. It was like being on a high. I got a buzz from it."

Despite being a convicted gang rapist, Gerry Spence remains in the Orange Order. The organisation has defended his membership of LOL 1913 Ligoniel True Blues lodge saying that rules barring sex offenders from joining were introduced after his conviction.

The family of the woman raped by Spence have previously called on the Order to withdraw his membership.

Her brother said: "It's gutting for my family to see Gerry Spence walking with the Ligoniel True Blues. He has taken part in parades with DUP ministers Nigel Dodds and Nelson McCausland. I'm sure they would be horrified to know that they were marching next to a convicted rapist.

"We still cannot understand how the Orange Order could take a well-known sex offender into its ranks."

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