Sister of UVF victim Peter Ward cannot forgive after 50 years

Mary Ward, mother of Peter, pictured with her daughter Bell Sheppard. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Mary Ward, mother of Peter, pictured with her daughter Bell Sheppard. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE sister of a Catholic man shot dead by a UVF murder gang 50 years ago has said that despite the passage of time she cannot forgive his killers.

Bell Sheppard’s teenage brother Peter Ward was murdered by a loyalist gang led by former loyalist chief Gusty Spence on June 26, 1966.

The UVF was responsible for three killings over a period of several weeks in 1966 in the first murders of the Troubles.

Ms Sheppard said that if police had warned people that a sectarian murder gang was on the loose in Belfast her brother may not have ventured into the loyalist area.

The 18-year-old from Beechmount in west Belfast, was one of three Catholic men targeted by the gang as they left a pub with workmates in the Shankill Road area after a night out.

The barman died after a bullet pierced his heart when he was ambushed as he left the Malvern Arms in Malvern Street.

The teenager had gone to the bar with workmates from the International Hotel in Belfast city centre for a drink after coming off a shift.

One of his workmates Liam Doyle from west Belfast was shot in the leg and Strabane man Andrew Kelly suffered abdominal wounds in the gun attack.

The murder prompted then Stormont Prime Minister Terence O’Neill to outlaw the loyalist group.

Ms Sheppard, who was eight months pregnant at the time, last night said she still cannot forgive Gusty Spence.

“No, I still wouldn’t (forgive), he is dead and buried and I wouldn’t forgive him. I can’t, I am very bitter towards him, very bitter,” she said.

“Because he took him (Peter) at 18 and I sit and think, 18, and he had all them years ahead of him to live. He was a great guy.”

She added: “I just can’t forgive, and I can forgive many a person, but not for taking Peter.

“He’s dead and I know he can’t do me any harm but I still can’t forgive him.”

Spence, who died in 2011, always denied involvement in the murder although he admitted his role in the UVF at the time.

He was convicted of murder after an 11-day trial with two other men Hugh Arnold McLean, from Carrickfergus and Robert James Williamson from Dagmar Street in Belfast.

All three were given life sentences.

Ms Sheppard said that Spence spoke to her brother in the bar before he was shot and asked him where he worked.

The 73-year-old said the pain of losing her brother remains strong.

“It does not feel any different to what it was when he was shot,” he said.

“I would still think about him all the time.”

She still visits Milltown Cemetery to lay flowers at her brother's grave but this anniversary marking 50 years since his killing is more poignant.

“I remember my brother as being good and kind and a great person altogether,” she said.

Ms Sheppard claims that Spence spoke to her mother Mary, now aged 95, at least twice on the telephone after the 1994 loyalist ceasefire.

She also said that he travelled to the Beechmount area around the same time in the hope of a face to face meeting with the help of a priest.

However, Ms Sheppard said she blocked the move when she learned that a meeting had been lined up.

“(I believe) he wanted her forgiveness and he more or less asked her to forgive him,” she said.

“I think he was trying to ease his conscience or something like that, to get her forgiveness, he wanted her forgiveness.

“If I had been here that day I would have said ‘no you can’t forgive him’ but she is a better person than I am.

“She is a holy woman, she never missed Mass and always went to Novenas and said her prayers every night, so, she would forgive anybody."

The pensioner said she gives Spence little credit for the part he later played in securing the loyalist ceasefire.

“He shouldn’t have been out murdering people in the first place,” she said.

“And that goes for anybody that goes out and murders.”

Mr Ward was killed by the same UVF gang that had shot 28-year-old John Scullion in the Clonard area of west Belfast.

He died from his injuries several weeks later.

Initially the RUC and other agencies insisted he had been stabbed despite local people reporting having heard two shots.

The RUC were also handed a bullet shell which was found by a neighbour of the victim after the killing.

It was only after his remains were exhumed that the RUC eventually confirmed he had in fact been shot.

A 77-year-old Protestant woman, Matilda Gould, died a day after Mr Ward from injuries received when the same UVF gang accidently firebombed her home as they tried to torch a Catholic owned bar in the Shankill area in May 1966.

Ms Sheppard believes that if the RUC warned members of the public that a UVF murder gang was operating in west Belfast after John Scullion was murdered her brother would have avoided the area.

“Well, my brother wouldn’t have been there, that’s for sure, he would not have been there,” she said.

“If there was (a UVF gang) they should have told people and then people wouldn’t have been up it."

The pensioner said she has never returned to the Shankill Road since the day her brother was killed.

“I was on it that day buying baby clothes for the baby I was expecting and I have never been on the Shankill Road.

“I can’t, I know I would just freeze. I have met people fro the Shankill and they know who I am, I have told them who I am, I don’t hide, but to go onto it, to walk on it, no.”