A minor controversy is bubbling away between two of Belfast’s best known Troubles’ researchers – one an expert on the Nationalist version of history, the other a specialist in the Loyalist narrative – over whether the legendary UVF leader, Gusty Spence killed a Catholic in the Markets area of Belfast while on the run following his daring escape from Long Kesh.
The spat began with an article in The Irish News citing evidence – in the form of British Army logs – unearthed by Ciaran MacAirt suggesting that Spence may have shot dead an IRA member by the name of Joseph Downey in an exchange of gunfire near the Markets area late on the same day as the IRA carried out the notorious Bloody Friday bombings in July 1972.
Now, Loyalist expert Gareth Mulvenna has replied, taking issue with MacAirt’s argument. You can read both articles below.
First MacAirt’s piece:
Researcher says Gusty Spence may have been involved in 1972 Market killing
FORMER UVF leader Gusty Spence may have been involved in a random sectarian murder in Belfast while on the run from prison in 1972.
Newspaper archives uncovered by research group Paper Trail reveal that Spence’s wife Louie was identified as one of two people shot and injured by the British army in a car close to where IRA man Joseph Downey was killed.
Newspaper reports from the time suggest that Gusty Spence may also have been in a vehicle when it was fired on in the Markets area of south Belfast.
Mr Downey (23) was shot dead in July 1972 as he walked in the McAuley Street area during trouble in the district.
It is believed the killers were not aware their victim was a member of the IRA. Two other people were also injured in the area around the same time during gunfire.
It has been reported that Mr Downey was struck in the neck with a low velocity round.
Military documents also uncovered by the legacy archive group reveal a .22 rifle was recovered from the car that Louie Spence was travelling in when she and another passenger were shot and injured.
British soldiers later said they fired on gunmen in McAuley Street area but they had been using high velocity weapons.
Gusty Spence was convicted and jailed for the murder of Catholic barman Peter Ward in the Shankill Road area in 1966.
However he failed to return to prison after being released on leave in July 1972 to attend his daughter’s wedding.
Mr Downey was shot dead just weeks after Spence went on the run.
The feared loyalist, who died in 2011, spent four months on the run before finally being recaptured.
Military logs shed fresh light on the events of the night Mr Downey was killed.
One reads “Prod (Protestant) car with two occupants came out of Cromac Street and was riddled with bullets”.
The entry confirms that two people were injured while a subsequent note reveals that a .22 rifle was found.
An intelligence summary dated July 27 and marked “confidential” appears to link the car with the murder of Mr Downey and wounding of two other Catholic men.
The document reveals that a “sortie by Protestant gunmen into the Markets resulted in two of them being wounded, and three Catholics also being wounded, one of them Downey, mentioned in para 38, fatally.
“The wounded Protestants were found in possession of a .22 rifle, and were discovered to be (redacted).”
Under a section headed ‘comment’, which is also redacted, the document reveals that “this may have been a UVF inspired attack.
“A third member, who escaped, may even have been (redacted) himself”.
According to Paper Trail, a registered charity, newspaper reports also claimed that the former UVF man may have escaped from the car after British soldiers opened up.
It is believed no charges were ever brought in relation to the murder of Mr Downey.
Paper Trail researcher Ciarán MacAirt, who unearthed the documents, said the family of Mr Downey have been denied truth and justice.
He said the newspaper reports coupled with the intelligence documents pointed to Spence – who read out the 1994 statement declaring the loyalist ceasefire – being involved in the gun attack.
“If Gusty Spence was indeed in the car, historians will need to rewrite the history of his personal journey to peacemaker because in the summer of 1972 it would appear he reverted to his sectarian gang activities of 1966 and was personally involved in the random shooting of unarmed Catholics in the Market,” he said.
Now, a link to Mulvenna’s article on his own blog:
Who Killed Joseph Downey? Not Gusty Spence … — Gareth Mulvenna
In the middle of November 2019, campaigner Ciarán MacAirt published an article on his Paper Trail website which revisited the circumstances surrounding the death of IRA volunteer Joseph Downey. Downey was shot dead in the Markets area of Belfast city centre on Friday 21 July 1972. Earlier in the day, the IRA had detonated a […]