Northern Ireland

Gusty Spence's family continue campaign over Peter Ward murder

Gusty Spence always maintained he didn't kill Peter Ward
Gusty Spence always maintained he didn't kill Peter Ward

THE family of UVF founder Gusty Spence have launched a fresh bid to clear his name over the murder of a Catholic teenager 50 years ago.

Spence was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Catholic barman Peter Ward on June 26 1966.

The 18-year-old was shot dead as he and friends left the Malvern Bar in the loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast.

Two friends were also wounded in the attack which came shortly after another Catholic man, John Scullion, died from injuries received after he was shot by the same UVF gang in the Clonard area of west Belfast a month earlier.

A Protestant woman, Matilda Gould, died a day after Mr Ward from injuries when her home was accidentally fire-bombed by the gang which had tried to burn down a Catholic-owned bar in the Shankill area.

In yesterday's Irish News Peter Ward's sister Bell Sheppard told how she cannot forgive his killers.

The UVF man's nephew Ed Spence last night revealed that he wrote to the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC) earlier this month asking it to consider potential new evidence in the case.

Mr Spence, who has campaigned on behalf of his uncle in recent years, said the former UVF leader denied involvement in the Ward killing even on his death bed.

As well as being a founding member of the paramilitary group, the former British soldier went on to lead loyalist prisoners while he served his life sentence.

He later renounced violence and announce the loyalist ceasefires in 1994.

Spence's nephew said the senior loyalist maintained his innocence to a Church of Ireland minister in the days before his death in 2011.

“He said he did not shoot Peter Ward,” he said.

“The canon said ‘do you want to repent for your sins?'

“He said he had nothing to repent for, ‘I did not kill Peter Ward’, and that was a couple of days before he died.”

Mr Spence said that his uncle never denied being with his co-accused in the hours before the Ward murder but insisted he had left their company and gone to visit his sister before the murder.

In 2010 the case was referred to the CCRC, which investigates potential wrongful convictions, but it was thrown out just months after his death in 2012.

His family believe recent changes to the law concerning joint enterprise convictions could provide another opportunity for his case to be re-examined.

Mr Spence recently wrote to the CCRC asking it to reconsider the case.

He also referred to the fact that in 1966 a magistrate returned Spence’s co-accused for trial but said there was no prima facie case against him.

The case was then brought before a grand jury which returned him for trial despite arguments put forward by his barrister Barry Shaw, QC, who later went on to become the director of public prosecutions in the north.

The grand jury system was abolished three years later.

Mr Spence contends that the Crown Prosecution Service guidance on joint enterprise says that “a case which does not pass the evidential stage must not proceed, no matter or how serious it may be”.

“We contend it was guilt by association and probability, and not the evidence, that failed to provide justice for Augustus Andrew Spence,” he said.

Mr Spence added that “we now ask that given the RM’s (resident magistrate’s) decision whereby Mr Spence had no prima facie case to answer at the evidential stage, it should never have been legally permissible to go even near a grand jury hearing in the first instance.”

He also claimed that the foreman of the jury, Charlie Tosh, that convicted his uncle later wrote to the British Home Office to voice concerns about the trial.

Mr Tosh later became a TUV councillor and died in 2013.

The introduction of reforms in Northern Ireland combined with the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, along with anti-communist feeling, created fertile ground for the emergence of the UVF.

Ed Spence said he believes his uncle was targeted by the Stormont regime because he opposed the reforms being introduced by the then prime minister Terence O’Neill.

“We think it was a conspiracy from the O’Neill regime,” he said.

Mr Spence said he has sympathy for the Ward family, saying the murder of the Catholic teenager had an impact on his family as well.

But he added: “I can understand the feelings of the Ward family against Gusty Spence."