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Peter Robinson contacted NIO about UVF godfather Gusty Spence's release, files reveal

 

Gusty Spence in the Maze prison 1970's.
Gusty Spence in the Maze prison 1970's.

By David O'Dornan

Former DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson once made a call to Northern Ireland Office (NIO) officials on behalf of ex-UVF godfather Gusty Spence, newly declassified secret files reveal.

Spence, who died aged 78 in 2011, was at one stage leader of the UVF and one of the first of the loyalist terror group's members to be convicted of murder.

Inside prison he was UVF commander in the Maze but upon his release and after renouncing violence, he joined the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), becoming a leading figure in the group and the peace process as well as taking the principal role in delivering the loyalist ceasefires of 1994.

A memo dated April 6, 1984, and contained in files released in recent days by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, is headed: "Telephone call from Peter Robinson MP re: Gusty Spence." The author's name is redacted.

It stated: "Mr Robinson MP rang Private Office today about Gusty Spence. He wished to raise two points with the minister:

"1. The prisons generally were more settled at the moment - I assumed that this was a reference to the ending of the loyalist protest - and it might now be an appropriate time to re-examine Spence's case with a view to setting a release date.

"2. He enquired about the possibility of Gusty Spence getting 'Easter parole'. He was aware that an extended period of Christmas home-leave had been granted even though technically Spence was not entitled to home leave until his release date was set.

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"This indicated that 'where there was a will, there was a way'."

A separate memo from the same (redacted) civil servant working under the minister Nicholas Scott dated April 20, 1984, references another call from Mr Robinson regarding prison matters.

It said: "When the minister met with the Loyalist Prisoners Rights Committee on 9 March the LPRC pressed him to respond quickly on the whole issue of lost remission.

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson

"Mr Robinson contested that ministers were quick to respond by restoring lost remission to republican prisoners at the end of the hunger strike, whereas Mr Scott is demanding 'proof' from the loyalist of full conformity to prison rules.

"Mr Robinson said that it was now three months since the ending of the loyalist protest and he would urge the minister to take action now in restoring lost remission or there would be 'serious trouble' in the near future."

The politician also "complained that the practice of allowing unescorted parcels to be left at Magilligan had recently stopped" and again "enquired about Gusty Spence's position".

In a later letter from Nicholas Scott dated July 27, 1984, he replied to Peter Robinson who had sent a letter from a constituent (name redacted) who had written to him "about the restoration of remission which he lost during the loyalist protest".

The letter said the prisoner was in the Maze serving 12 years for robbery and Mr Scott told him: "As you are aware I have decided not to introduce any further general restoration of remission scheme to cover remission lost through protest action subsequent to 1 November, 1981."

Mr Robinson received a similar response on June 30, 1984, regarding another prisoner who lost remission after the loyalist protest, who had been serving 10 years in the Maze for wounding with intent and possession of firearms; and again in a reply from Mr Scott, dated June 28, regarding a prisoner in Magilligan serving six years for armed robbery who "took part in the loyalist protest in Magilligan in October and November 1982, and was one of the prisoners involved in the fouling of cells there".

Gusty Spence later renounced violence and joined the PUP.
Gusty Spence later renounced violence and joined the PUP.

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