Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Pat Finucane's 'killer' Jim Spence behind loyalist poster campaign against his son John

UDA chief whips up sectarian tensions with attack on Sinn Fein candidate's family

Jim Spence. Picture Sunday Life
Jim Spence. Picture Sunday Life
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

The UDA leader who planned the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane is behind the sinister banner placed on Belfast’s Shankill Road attacking his politician son.

Loyalist sources confirmed that Jim Spence ordered the sign, which also targets John Finucane’s slain father and three uncles Seamus, Dermot and John Snr, to be erected on the corner of Mayo Street.

Spence has denied being behind the poster campaign.

But the banner, designed to encourage support for the DUP’s Nigel Dodds in his North Belfast Westminster election battle next month, appears to have backfired.

He is understood to be furious at some of its content, believing that it will lead to nationalists voting for Sinn Fein’s John Finucane in greater numbers.

Loyalists have also questioned why the UDA featured Seamus Finucane on the banners, when members of the terror gang have been heavily involved in behind doors government-funded projects with the ex-IRA prisoner.

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UDA gunman Ken Barrett with grandson Hunter

Senior West Belfast UDA men Denis Cunningham, Billy ‘Twister’ McQuiston and Geordie Courtney were happy to be pictured with him at an anti-sectarianism event in Belfast City Hall when community groups they are involved in were handed £100,000.

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Convicted IRA bomber Spike Murray is also in the image as are leading Shankill UVF figures Tom Roberts and Mark Vinton and republicans Gerry McConville, Joe Marley and Conor Keenan.

Prior to posing for the photograph, they mingled together chatting about everyday issues from sport to the weather.

A loyalist source said: “The West Belfast UDA is trying to make Seamy Finucane out to be a bogeyman, when the truth is that it sits down for tea and biscuits with him and other IRA men all the time. It’s all about getting government funding for their pet projects. The UDA pretends like he is their mortal enemy, but that picture of them all together in the City Hall proves that’s nonsense.”

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Michelle O'Neill and John Finucane during a break at Sinn Fein's Ard Fheis

Our revelation of who is behind the banner comes just days after leading loyalist spokesman Jamie Bryson said allegations of his involvement were “nonsense” and an “effort to create one particular bogeyman”.

The reverse effect of the Finucane banner spurring moderate nationalists to vote Sinn Fein in North Belfast is worrying the DUP. Even republican arch-critics like former SDLP MP Alasdair McDonnell have publicly backed John Finucane.

Senior DUP figures attribute some of the blame for this to the banners, with one leading backroom figure describing the decision to put it up as “stupid”.

Another elected DUP politician told us: “We had John Finucane on the ropes over Sean Kelly (IRA Shankill bomber) canvassing for him. But that moral high ground has been completely lost with this banner. The party wasn’t consulted about this, no one knew about it until it was up.”

Nigel Dodds was quick to criticise the Finucane banner when the DUP launched its election policy document last Tuesday.

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William Mo Courtney

He also pointed out that Sinn Fein has yet to condemn a Christmas 1996 gun attack on a police officer guarding him during a visit to the Royal Victoria Hospital in west Belfast.

Mr Dodds had gone there to check on the condition of his seriously-ill disabled son when two IRA men opened fire.

One of the bullets struck an empty baby incubator — and that image is one of the most shameful of the Troubles.

DUP insiders explained how the party is keen to play down the Finucane banner row after it dominated the launch of the party’s policy document.

However, the West Belfast UDA gang who put it up on the Shankill have no such plans. They have vowed to ratchet up more sectarian tension in the run-up to the December 12 Westminster election, believing that is the best way to bring out the unionist vote.

Similar Finucane banners have also appeared in Glengormley and the Tigers Bay areas of north Belfast.

The constituency is becoming an increasingly close two-horse race between Mr Dodds and Mr Finucane after the Ulster Unionists and SDLP decided not to stand.

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Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was shot dead by Loyalists.

A West Belfast UDA insider said: “This will continue until the polls close on December 12, whether the DUP likes it or not. It’s grubby politics, but it’s also the best way to get unionists out in numbers to vote for Nigel Dodds.”

The source also claimed West Belfast UDA members have stopped participating in government-funded cross-community projects with former IRA prisoners.

Jim Spence — the veteran loyalist who sanctioned the Finucane banner being placed on the Shankill Road — runs West Belfast UDA ‘B Company’ in the Woodvale area.

A divisive figure, he has been a senior member of the terror gang since the 1980s, and played a key role in the murder of John Finucane’s solicitor father Pat Finucane at their home in north Belfast.

A government-backed report by Sir Desmond Da Silva into the killing found that elements of RUC Special Branch colluded with the UDA to carry out the fatal shooting.

In his report Da Silva says it is likely that Pat Finucane was suggested as a target by a rogue police officer while questioning a UDA member at Castlereagh in 1988.

The Da Silva review also identifies Spence, who is not trusted by the Shankill UVF and hated by other UDA units in South Belfast and South East Antrim, as the long-standing informant L/20.

Damning statements from UDA gunman Ken Barrett — who was convicted of the Finucane killing — reveal how Spence was able to have RUC checkpoints removed so loyalist gunmen could travel freely and arrange for guns to be stolen from UDR barracks.

He also managed to avoid arrest despite his fingerprints being found on documents targeting republicans. After he was arrested for the Finucane murder in 2003, Barrett implicated Spence, who was not questioned about the killing until 1999 — a full 10 years after it occurred.

He also named the gunmen as convicted UDA killer Mo Courtney, a close pal of Spence, and Mark Barr who killed himself in 2007.

In damning statements to detectives, Barrett said: “Spence came to me and said it (Finucane murder) had to be done. Somewhere on the Antrim Road there was a roadblock. Spence made a couple of calls to remove it.

“We went to the address, Mo Courtney and Mark Barr went in and did the business.

“We went back to Spence’s house and got changed and then went to the club.”

He also outlined Spence’s connections with the security services, which were well known within UDA circles. Barrett further confessed to being present when Spence met his Special Branch handler ‘McWhirter’ at a golf club.

He said: “Spence had a police friend he used to meet at the golf club. He was known to me as McWhirter. McWhirter and other police officers at Castlereagh were putting the word out that Finucane should be hit (during interviews of loyalist prisoners).

“Spence’s contact wanted it done. He had been to Spence’s house many times.”

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

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