Northern Ireland news

Academic disputes researcher claims over Gusty Spence involvement in 1972 murder of IRA man Joseph Downey

Gusty Spence appearing on ITV's World In Action when he was on the run

AN academic has rejected recent research which suggests UVF leader Gusty Spence may have been involved in a sectarian murder while on the run from prison.

Newspaper archives - coupled with intelligence documents - uncovered by legacy group Paper Trail reveal a .22 rifle was recovered from the car that Spence's wife Louie was travelling in when she and another passenger were shot and injured in July 1972.

An intelligence summary linked the weapon find and shooting to the killing on the same night of IRA man Joseph Downey and wounding of two other Catholic men in what "may have been a UVF inspired attack".

There is also reference to "a third member" of a "sortie of Protestant gunmen" that "escaped, may even have been (redacted) himself".

Paper Trail researcher Ciarán MacAirt told the Irish News the evidence points to Gusty Spence, who was on the run at the time, being involved.

However, author and researcher Dr Gareth Mulvenna said he spoke to "a close relative of Gusty Spence" and "other people who were around in 1972" who insist Mrs Spence and her two female friends were the only occupants of the car, which was driven by "Ken Gibson (then an intelligence officer with the East Belfast UVF)".

He said they "were nowhere near where the other shooting occurred" but on their way "across town from west Belfast to visit Gusty" who was hiding out in Gibson's home.

The relative claimed a soldier told him a few days later the rifle "had been located in an empty house in the area during a normal follow up search after their engagement with the IRA, and not in the car", a fact "borne out by the fact that neither Mrs Spence nor any of the others in the car were ever charged with possession of any weapon".

"Given the circumstances surrounding Friday July 21 in Belfast, when the city had been devastated by IRA bombs throughout the whole day, the security forces were heavily active on the ground, it would seem highly unlikely that Ken Gibson and his passengers (if these as alleged by MacAirt potentially included Gusty Spence himself - and thus a husband and wife double-team) would go cruising through a hot and heavy IRA area such as the Markets to shoot a Catholic," Mr Mulvenna wrote.

Mr MacAirt insisted his conclusions are based on "factual, primary source British Military Operations Logs and intelligence summaries which Paper Trail accessed through the Freedom of Information Act".

"This information constitutes startling new evidence that the British military shot two loyalists - one of whom was a woman - and recovered a .22 rifle in their car which the British Military then linked to the random killing of Joseph Downey and the attempted murder of two other Catholics in the same area at the same time," he said.

"Newspapers at the time reported that Louie Spence was shot in a car in the same area at the same time and that Gusty Spence himself may have `slipped away'.

"All names are redacted... but Paper Trail has asked the National Archives to lift the redactions if those named are deceased.

Paper Trail chair Niall Ó Murchú said "any article based on `anonymous sources' (especially one who was not there during the incident) cannot be taken seriously. It has no credibility whatsoever".

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