Gusty Spence, In The Shadow Of A British Gunman

Speaking of the history of British separatist terrorism in Ireland, here is a recent article from Ciarán Mac Airt, author and researcher, published on Paper Trail, an archive devoted to “legacy issues” of the Long War.

“The documents found at Kew National Archives by Paper Trail regard the RELEASE of Gusty Spence by RUC in October 1972 even though he was on the most wanted list after his first “escape” from prison custody in July 1972 – the British prison authorities allowed the convicted murderer to attend his daughter’s wedding during one of the most violent periods in the conflict. Spence absconded after the wedding.

Acting on “hard information”, British soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (1 Para) picked Spence up along with 60+ UVF men from a drinking club in the Shankill area of Belfast. These included a number of UVF’s commanders like Big Bill Campbell, head of the UVF in Scotland, and 3 of the McGurk’s Bar bombers.

Spence and the others were transported to Castlereagh to be identified and processed by RUC which should have been an easy exercise even if he was in disguise, as Spence was so well known. He was easily identifiable anyway by his tattoos (and that is how 1 Para identified and recaptured him the following month, in November 1972).

The RUC quite simply released him though.

Rather than recording a police mistake, these files document the realisation by the the British political and military elite, including the British Prime Minister himself, that Spence had been captured as planned but released by the police, undermining the whole British Army operation.

The documents also record the Chief Constable at the time was forced to investigate Spence’s release by his force and report back to government, whilst the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, was alerted prior to a meeting with Taoiseach Jack Lynch.  Heath though was advised to follow the line that allegations of Spence’s escape were being investigated.

Since then, the government line taken was that it was a police mistake and that Spence had not been identified by the officers on duty, and that there was no disagreement with the British Army.

These records refute this.

The documents are highly significant for scores of cases involving murder by the UVF during this time as the RUC:

– Denied the existence of Loyalist violence
– Blamed UVF killings on the IRA, such as McGurk’s Bar and Kelly’s Bar massacres
– Failed to investigate the killings
– Failed to intern Loyalist extremists at a time when only Catholics were being interned
– Released the most recognisable and most wanted Loyalist leader

How could any family expect a fair RUC investigation into the murder of their loved ones by pro-state extremists if their officers released the most wanted Loyalist murderer?”

Augustus ‘Gusty’ Spence may have expressed “abject and true remorse” on behalf of the British and unionist terror factions for the slaughter they brought to this island nation but their role in sparking the conflagration has yet to be acknowledged. Especially by those who act as public apologists for the UK’s continued presence in the north-east of the country. It was Spence, a former British soldier, who helped re-establish the Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF in 1965, at the request of senior members of the Ulster Unionist Party, almost certainly including the UUP MP for West Belfast, Sir James Kilfedder. The next year, following a campaign of unrest on the streets that benefited several unionist politicians, the UVF murdered seventy-seven year old Matilda Gould in an arson attack on a “Catholic” pub (ironically she was a Protestant grandmother.) A couple of weeks later twenty-eight year old John Scullion was gunned down in a drive-by shooting, while another young man, eighteen year old Peter Ward, was shot dead and two others wounded not long after that.

These dreadful events all took place in the latter half of 1965 and the first seven months of 1966. The (Provisional) Irish Republican Army was not to come into formal existence until December of 1969, and its first attacks did not occur until 1970, four years after the UVF and Spence went on their rampage in Belfast. The modern Troubles began with British terror, just as it did with all those which preceded it. That is the one fact of history that no amount of historical excuses or falsehoods can hide.

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