Unionist politician 'convinced Spence to become a terrorist'
Published 29/09/2011 | 05:00
A unionist politician convinced Gusty Spence to become a terrorist, his funeral was told yesterday.
Dawn Purvis, the former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), told his funeral in the loyalist heartland of Belfast's Shankill Road that Spence became involved in violence in the 1960s.
"Gusty was approached by a unionist politician to join the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)," she told mourners in the Church of Ireland's St Michael's Parish Church.
She claimed unionist politicians in 1960s Northern Ireland used sectarianism to create division and protect their own political power.
"On reflection, Gusty believed that the UVF was reformed, not so much as a perceived threat from the IRA, but more so as a result of the internal wranglings within unionism," she said.
Mr Spence (78), who died in hospital at the weekend after a long illness, was convicted for a sectarian murder in 1966 and was a figurehead of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which killed hundreds of people when the full violence of the Troubles erupted three years later.
But the veteran figure was also credited with being a driving force in delivering the loyalist ceasefires of the mid-1990s that helped bring an end to the decades of conflict.
There were no paramilitary trappings as mourners carried the coffin of the loyalist leader.
His hearse bore a floral tribute that spelt out the word 'Granda', while relatives who spoke at the funeral recalled personal memories of a family man.
The murders carried out by the UVF were brutal even by Northern Ireland standards. In incidents carried out within days of each other in June 1966, Spence's gang killed two Catholic men, plus a Protestant pensioner murdered in a failed attempt to burn a neighbouring Catholic-owned bar. Mr Spence was convicted for the murder of one of the victims, 18-year-old Peter Ward, shot dead after being identified as a Catholic while he drank in a mainly Protestant pub. The loyalist leader always denied responsibility and his family are now challenging the conviction.
Leading figures were among the mourners, including former senior civil servant Maurice Hayes and former head of the North's Human Rights Commission Monica McWilliams.