Augustus Andrew "Gusty" Spence
06-28-1933 - 09-24-2011 (years 78)
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Augustus Andrew "Gusty" Spence  was a leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and a leading loyalist politician. One of the first UVF members to be convicted of murder, Spence was a leading figure in the movement for over a decade but later renounced violence and joined the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). As a PUP representative he took a leading role in delivering the loyalist ceasefires of 1994.

Spence was born in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, where his father Ned had been a member of the Ulster Volunteers and had fought in the First World War. The family home was 66 Joseph Street in an area of the lower Shankill known colloquially as "the Hammer". He was educated at the Riddel School on Malvern Street and the Hemsworth Square school, both on the Shankill, finishing his education aged fourteen. He was also a member of the Church Lads' Brigade, a Church of Ireland group, and the Junior Orange Order.

Spence took various manual jobs in the area until joining the British Army in 1957 as a member of the Royal Ulster Rifles. Spence rose to the rank of miitary police sergeant. He served in the army until 1961 when ill-health forced him to leave. Spence was stationed in Cyprus during his time in the army and saw action fighting against the forces of Colonel Georgios Grivas. From an early age Spence was a member of the The Prince Albert Temperance Loyal Orange Lodge, where fellow members included John McQuade. He has also been a member of the Royal Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

His older brother Billy Spence was a founding member of Ulster Protestant Action in 1956. Gusty Spence himself was frequently involved in street fights with republicans and garnered a reputation as "hard man". He was also associated loosely with radical unionists such as Ian Paisley and Desmond Boal and was advised by both men in 1959 when he launched a protest against Gerry Fitt at Belfast City Hall after Fitt had described Spence's regiment as "murderers" over allegations that they had killed civilians in Cyprus. Spence, along with other Shankill Road loyalists, would break from Paisley in 1965 when they sided with Jim Kilfedder in a row that followed the latter's campaigns in Belfast West. Paisley had intimated that Kilfedder, a rival for the leadership of dissident unionism, was close to Fine Gael after learning that he had attended party meetings while a student at Trinity College, Dublin. The Shankill loyalists however supported Kilfedder and following his election as MP sent a letter to Paisley accusing him of treachery during the entire affair.

Spence has claimed that he was approached in 1965 by two men, one of whom was an Ulster Unionist Party MP, who told him that the Ulster Volunteer Force was to be re-established and that he was to have responsibility for the Shankill. He was sworn in soon afterwards in a ceremony held in secret near Pomeroy. Because of his Army experience Gusty Spence was chosen as the military commander and public face of the UVF when the group was established although Special Branch believed that his brother Billy, who kept a much lower public profile, was the real leader of the group. Whatever the truth of this intelligence Gusty Spence's Shankill UVF was made up of only around 12 men on its formation.

On 7 May 1966, a group of UVF men led by Spence petrol bombed a Catholic-owned pub on Shankill Road. Fire also engulfed the house next door, killing the elderly Protestant widow, Matilda Gould (77), who lived there. On 27 May, Spence ordered four UVF men to kill an Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, Leo Martin, who lived on Falls Road. Unable to find their target, the men drove around in search of a Catholic. They shot dead John Scullion (28), a Catholic civilian, as he walked home. Spence later wrote "At the time, the attitude was that if you couldn't get an IRA man you should shoot a Taig, he's your last resort".  On 26 June, the same gang shot dead Catholic civilian Peter Ward (18) and wounded two others as they left a pub on Malvern Street, Belfast. Two days later, the government of Northern Ireland declared the UVF illegal. Shortly after, Spence and three others were arrested.

Spence was granted two days leave around 1 July 1972 to attend the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth to Winston Churchill "Winkie" Rea. The latter had formally asked Spence for his daughter's hand in marriage during a prison visit. Met by two members of the Red Hand Commando upon his release, Spence was informed of the need for a restructuring within the UVF, and told not to return to prison. He initially refused and went on to attend his daughter's wedding. Afterward a plot was concocted where his nephew Frankie Curry, also a UVF member, would drive Spence back to jail but the car would be stopped and Spence "kidnapped". As arranged, the car in which Spence was a passenger was stopped on the Springmartin Road and Spence was taken away by UVF members.  He remained at large for four months and during that time even gave an interview to ITV's World in Action in which he called for the UVF to take an increased role in the Northern Ireland conflict against the Provisional IRA while also distancing himself from any policy of random murders of Catholics. He also took on responsibility for the restructuring as ordered, returning the UVF to the same command structure and organisational base that Edward Carson had utilised for his Ulster Volunteers with brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, and sections. He also directed a significant restocking of the group's arsenal, with guns mostly taken from the security forces. His escape earned him the nickname "the Orange Pimpernel".

Spence's time on the outside came to an end on 4 November when he was captured by Colonel Derek Wilford of the Parachute Regiment who identified Spence from his tattooed hands. He was returned to Crumlin Road gaol soon afterward, where he shared a cell with William "Plum" Smith, one of the Red Hand Commandos whom he had met upon his initial release and who had since been jailed for attempted murder.

Spence soon became the UVF commander within the Maze Prison. Spence ran his part of the Maze along military lines, drilling inmates and training them in weapons use while also expecting a maintenance of discipline. As Maze commander Spence initially also had jurisdiction over the imprisoned members of the Ulster Defence Association although this came to an end in 1973 when, following a deterioration of relations between the two groups outside the prison walls, James Craig became the UDA's Maze commander.

Spence began to move towards a position of using political means and persuaded the UVF leadership to declare a temporary ceasefire in 1973. Following Merlyn Rees' decision to legalise the UVF in 1974 Spence encouraged them to enter politics and supported the establishment of the Volunteer Political Party. Spence's ideas were abandoned however as the UVF ceasefire fell apart following the Ulster Workers' Council strike and the VPP suffered a heavy defeat in West Belfast in the October 1974 general election, when the UUP candidate John McQuade captured six times as many votes as the VPP's Ken Gibson. Nonetheless Spence was increasinlgy disillusoned with the UVF and he distilled these views to fellow inmates at Long Kesh. According to Billy Mitchell Spence quizzed him and others sent to the Maze about why they were there, seeking an ideological answer to his question. When the prisoner was unable to provide one Spence would then seek to convince them of the wisdom of his more politicised path, something that he accomplished with Mitchell.  David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson were among the other UVF men imprisoned in the mid 1970s to become disciples of Spence. In 1977 he publicly condemned the use of violence for political gain, on the grounds that it was counter-productive. In 1978 Spence left the UVF altogether.

Released from prison in 1984, he soon became a leading member of the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party and a central figure in the Northern Ireland peace process. He was entrusted by the Combined Loyalist Military Command to read out their 13 October 1994 statement that announced the loyalist ceasefire. Flanked by his PUP colleagues Jim McDonald and William "Plum" Smith, as well as Ulster Democratic Party members Gary McMichael, John White and Davy Adams, Spence read out the statement in Fernhill House in Belfast's Glencairn area, an important training centre for members of Edward Carson's original Ulster Volunteers. A few days after the announcement Spence made a trip to the United States along with the PUP's David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson and the UDP's McMichael, Adams and Joe English, where among their engagements was one as guests of honour of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. He went on to become a leading advocate of the Belfast Agreement.

In August 2000 Spence was caught up in moves by Johnny Adair's "C" Company of the UDA to take control of the Shankill by forcing out the UVF and other opponents. Adair's men forced their way into Spence's Shankill home but found it empty as Spence tended to spend much of the summer at a caravan he owned in Groomsport. Nonetheless the C Company members ransacked the house and stole Spence's army medals while the Spence family were forced to stay off the Shankill for the entirety of the loyalist feud. When Spence's wife died three years later he said that C Company had been responsible for her death such was the toll that the events had taken on her health.

On 3 May 2007, he read out the statement by the UVF announcing that it will keep its weapons but put them beyond the reach of ordinary members. The statement also included a warning that activities could "provoke another generation of loyalists toward armed resistance". He did not specify what activities or what was being resisted.

Gusty Spence was the son of William Edward Spence, who was born in Whitehaven and raised in the Tiger's Bay area of north Belfast before moving to the Shankill. He married Isabella "Bella" Hayes, Gusty Spence's mother, in 1919. Spence was the sixth of seven children, their birth order being Billy, Cassie, Jim, Bobby, Ned junior, Gusty and Lily. Bobby, also a UVF member, died in October 1980 in Long Kesh a few months after the death of Billy.

Spence married Louie Donaldson, a native of the city's Grosvenor Road, on 20 June 1953 at Wellwood Street Mission, Sandy Row. The couple had three daughters, Elizabeth (born 1954), Sandra (1956) and Catherine (1960). Spence, a talented footballer in his youth with Old Lodge F.C., was a lifelong supporter of Linfield F.C..