Jim Spence (loyalist)

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Jim Spence
Birth name James Spence
Born 1960
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Allegiance Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
Rank Brigadier
Unit B Company, West Belfast Brigade
Conflict The Troubles

Jim Spence (born c. 1960[1]) is a Northern Irish former loyalist activist. Spence became notorious for his time in the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), serving two spells as Brigadier in West Belfast. Spence is a native of the Woodvale area of Belfast's Shankill Road.

B Company and collusion[edit]

Gerard Slane[edit]

Spence was commander of 'B' Company of the UDA's West Belfast Brigade, which covered the Woodvale area at the top of the Shankill Road, during the 1980s and 1990s. In this role Spence has been shown to have been closely involved with British agent Brian Nelson. On 22 September 1988 Gerard Slane was shot dead at his Falls Road home after members of the "Ulster Freedom Fighters" broke down his front door and shot him four times in the head.[2] An article that appeared in the UDA's Ulster magazine claimed that Slane was a member of the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO) and had driven the getaway car when UDA member Billy Quee was killed by that group although the IPLO did not claim Slane as a member following his killing.[3]

In 1992 Nelson issued a statement in which he placed the blame on Spence for the killing. According to Nelson he had obtained a photograph of Slane and had shown it to eyewitnesses who identified Slane as the driver at Quee's murder. Nelson then claimed that he gave the picture to Spence who told Nelson that "I'll soon deal with him" and dispatched a murder squad after first sending a reconnaissance team to find Slane's house.[4] Johnny Adair would later frequently recount the details of how he had been one of the two gunmen to kill Slane, although in truth this had not been the case. The actual killers have not been identified but they wer picked by Spence from within the ranks of B Company whilst Adair had always been a member of the Lower Shankill's C Company.[4] The Attorney General for Northern Ireland ordered that the murder case be reopened in June 2011 in order to investigate the collusion allegations.[5]

Pat Finucane[edit]

Spence was also named as having been involved in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in February 1989. According to Ken Barrett, who killed Finucane, it had been Spence who had initially suggested to him that Finucane should be killed. Spence introduced Barrett to an officer from Special Branch with whom the B Company commander had been in regular contact and it was from this man that Barrett received the information that Finucane was organising the IRA's finances.[6] In Michael Stones's book "None Shall Divide Us" he claims[page needed] that Pat Finucane was killed because he overheard a conversation in The Maze prison between Stone and Special Branch in which Stone stated that if he was given more than 30 years for the Milltown attack then he would say that he colluded with the RUC in the operation and that the white van containing RUC officers watching the cemetery was actually his get away vehicle.

Brigadier[edit]

In 1990 Spence was one of a number of leading figures within the West Belfast UDA imprisoned as part of the Stevens Inquiries. Tommy Lyttle, the West Belfast brigadier was the first to be jailed and he was soon followed by Matt Kincaid, Spence and William "Winkie" Dodds, the commanders respectively of A, B and C companies, the brigade's three sub-units.[7] Soon after his arrest Lyttle was removed as Brigadier and declared persona non grata as most of his allies in the UDA had already retired or died. Tommy Irvine, who replaced Lyttle as West Belfast Brigadier, favoured a less centralised structure to the Brigade and gave more of a free hand to the more violent-minded younger men such as Spence, Adair and Mo Courtney.[1] Irvine made Spence military commander of the West Belfast Brigade although only a few weeks into this role Spence's Stevens Inquiries arrest came.[8] Irvine was himself arrested in August 1990 and following his incarceration was very briefly replaced by Ken Barrett.[9] However, a power struggle broke out and Billy Kennedy, Tommy Lyttle's brother in law, briefly assumed the role of West Belfast Brigadier. Spence, however, was released from prison in October and he immediately assumed the role of Brigadier for himself, appointing Johnny Adair to the role of military commander.[10]

As brigadier Spence had overall command of the UDA in West Belfast although the bloody trail being waged by Adair as military commander meant that the supposed deputy was gaining most of the attention. By late 1991 Spence had begun to resent the power and influence enjoyed by Adair and he feared that C Company, which remained Adair's main power base, had become financially independent of the West Belfast Brigade. Spence was pleased when Adair's Langley Street Social Club, a major source of income, was raided by police and put out of business but his anxiety was raised further when Adair began to talk of targeting members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), something that was generally an anathema to loyalists.[11] Ultimately, however, Spence and Adair remained close friends and as a result the brigadier was able to persuade his second in command to abandon plans to kill police.[11] Indeed their friendship was so close that during the summer of 1993 the pair went on holiday together with their families to Tenerife.[12]

Whilst Adair had taken care of the killing side in West Belfast Spence had concentrated on the moneymaking elements of the UDA and had built up a large network of extortion and racketeering. Spence was arrested on charges of extortion in March 1993, and as was the established procedure, he was forced to relinquish his position as Brigadier. As a consequence Johnny Adair immediately succeeded Spence as West Belfast Brigadier.[13]

Spence and Adair[edit]

From prison Spence became increasingly angry at the violence of Adair, particularly the killing of Noel Cardwell by C Company in December 1993. Cardwell was a glass collector at the Diamond Jubilee Bar with a mental age of 12 who liked to be around the C Company top men. They in turn viewed Cardwell as a harmless figure of fun. In December 1993 Cardwell was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast after suffering a bad reaction when his drink was spiked with an ecstasy tablet by a member of C Company. Whilst in the hospital he was visited by members of the RUC who asked him who he had been drinking with. Cardwell named the UDA members he was with, having failed to grasp the code of secrecy governing the UDA. In order to send a message to informers Adair had Cardwell abducted following his release from hospital and subjected to a long and brutal interrogation process. He was shot and left to bleed to death with C Company member Gary McMaster later sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder.[14] Spence reacted to the killing with disgust, considering Cardwell to be harmless, and along with Matt Kincaid even concocted a plot to have a gun placed in Adair's house in order that he would be imprisoned with them to give them a chance to reason with him.[15] Ultimately the plan was not enacted as Adair remained a hugely popular figure on the Shankill despite the killing.[15] However, Spence, or "Spencer" as he was known locally, remained an ally of Adair and following his release in the mid-1990s returned to influence under new brigadier Winkie Dodds, whom Adair had appointed in his stead following his own arrest.[16] Spence attended the wedding of Adair and Gina Crossan, held in prison, on 21 February 1997.[17] Like Adair, Spence also advocated a closer relationship with the emerging Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and Spence personally enjoyed a close relationship with Jackie Mahood, a former member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) who was allied to the LVF leader Billy Wright and who tried to convince the Portadown-based leader to take control of the UVF as a whole.[18]

Following Adair's release and return to the role of Brigadier he attempted to involve Spence, back in command of B Company, in his 2000 feud with the UVF. On 21 August the UVF had shot and killed two of Adair's allies, Jackie Coulter and Bobby Mahood, whilst they sat in a car on the Crumlin Road. Soon afterwards Adair saw Progressive Unionist Party spokesman Billy Hutchinson on television and immediately rang Spence and told him to "shoot the fucker ... right now". Spence intimated that he would although he had no desire to become involved in the feud, whilst Adair did not realise that Spence's phone had been bugged by Special Branch who heard the entire conversation.[19] Spence was particularly wary of provoking open conflict with the UVF, as, unlike Adair's Lower Shankill stronghold, the Woodvale area was solid UVF turf, and for a spell the social club Spence and B Company ran on Heather Street had to be guarded by soldiers of the British Army due to anticipation of an attack.[20] No attack on Hutchinson took place and Adair was returned to jail soon afterwards, the feud ending as a result.

Fall of Adair[edit]

In June 2002 an episode of the BBC programme Panorama was broadcast in which Nelson's claims linking Spence to the Pat Finucane killing were broadcast. It was not the first time that such allegations had been made as rumours that Spence was an informer had surfaced regularly.[21] The suggestion that Spence was a high-ranking informer raised some anger, and for Mo Courtney the only solution was to kill Spence. Adair refused to sanction the killing, as he remained on good terms with Spence and felt that he was loyal, and the incident helped to drive a wedge between Adair and Courtney.[22] Adair finally broke from Spence in 2003 when South Belfast Brigadier Jackie McDonald purged the Shankill of C Company and Adair's supporters. Adair reacted by denouncing Spence as a "liar and a tout" in a carefully orchestrated media campaign over the following months.[23] Spence, who had tired of Adair's extremism, had helped to facilitate McDonald's assault on the Lower Shankill.[24]

Subsequent activity[edit]

Spence was loyal to the new regime on the Shankill, and in late 2003 he once again took over as Brigadier in West Belfast when Adair's replacement, Spence's old rival Mo Courtney, was arrested.[25] By early 2004 he had officially vacated this role, as the constant press attacks from Adair began to damage his credibility and a comeback by Adair began to look a distinct possibility.[26] Ultimately, however, this did not materialise, and when Adair left prison the following year he immediately left for Bolton, where his followers had fled to in 2003. Spence, meanwhile, had, in fact, remained as Brigadier and was still in the role by November 2004.[27]

In 2006 the Daily Ireland reported that the UDA intended to expel Spence, as part of a move aimed at removing a number of "undesirables", including the Shoukri brothers, whose presence was seen as damaging the UDA's chances of securing government funding for its projects. The paper reported that there was a reluctance amongst the leadership to oust Spence, however, as he controlled the finances in West Belfast and would be likely to abscond with much of their money.[28] Rumours that Spence was to be stood down had in fact first appeared in the paper as early as April 2005.[29] However, Spence was replaced as Brigadier in 2006 by fellow long-term activist Matt Kincaid.[30]

Spence was recorded most recently in March 2011 as part of a publicly funded trip to Auschwitz, where he accompanied other veteran loyalists such as Courtney and Billy "Twister" McQuiston on a trip to learn about Polish culture. Allegations, however, appeared in the press that Spence and his fellow loyalists actually spent most of their time at bars and strip clubs.[31]

Bibliography[edit]

  • David Lister and Hugh Jordan, Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and 'C' Company, Mainstream Press, 2004
  • Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack, UDA - Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Penguin Ireland, 2004
  • Jon Moran, Policing the Peace in Northern Ireland: Politics, Crime and Security After the Belfast Agreement, Manchester University Press, 2009
  • Ian S. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA, Edinburgh University Press, 2006

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lister & Jordan, p. 95
  2. ^ Dark side of the war
  3. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 63
  4. ^ a b Lister & Jordan, p. 64
  5. ^ New inquest ordered into UDA murder of Gerard Slane
  6. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 78
  7. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 82
  8. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 96
  9. ^ Wood, p. 155
  10. ^ Lister & Jordan, pp. 96-99
  11. ^ a b Lister & Jordan, p. 118
  12. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 148
  13. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 149
  14. ^ Lister & Jordan, pp. 194-196
  15. ^ a b Lister & Jordan, p. 201
  16. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 227
  17. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 250
  18. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 282
  19. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 292
  20. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 337
  21. ^ Moran, p. 70
  22. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 329
  23. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 398
  24. ^ Wood, p. 355
  25. ^ Wood, p. 304
  26. ^ Wood, p. 305
  27. ^ UDA seeks £3m to give members jobs
  28. ^ "UDA to Oust Jim Spence", Daily Ireland, 9 August 2006
  29. ^ "UDA power struggle at boiling point", Daily Ireland, 7 April 2005
  30. ^ "Expulsions are two-fingers to mainstream UDA", Sunday Life, 30 July 2005
  31. ^ UDA terror tour
Other offices
Preceded by
Billy Kennedy
Ulster Defence Association West Belfast Brigadier
1990–1993
Succeeded by
Johnny Adair
Preceded by
Mo Courtney
Ulster Defence Association West Belfast Brigadier
2003–2006
Succeeded by
Matt Kincaid