Crime documentary series examining four successfully-solved murder cases from Northern Ireland, featuring dramatic reconstruction, expert witnesses and archive footage.
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This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
The murder of Billy Spence,
a popular bed and breakfast landlord,
shook the local community of Bangor at the height of the holiday season
in July 2008.
There are several other guesthouses close to the Tara.
This is a very popular street for visitors to stay
because it's near the marina and the seafront.
Local residents say they are bewildered by what's happened here.
I was at home here the day that Billy was murdered.
I'd heard the radio in the morning
saying an incident had happened in Bangor.
I wasn't sure whereabouts, or who it had happened to.
I remember we had a friend in hospital and he phoned -
waking very early in the hospital, he phoned -
and he'd heard on the news that there was a body found at Tara.
I went out the back to go and see if I could find anything out
but the police had it cordoned off
and you couldn't get near anywhere.
I said, "We'll ring Billy's number, phone number," because Billy
always had his phone with him wherever he was,
but there was no reply.
I really had a real sick feeling.
I thought, "That's not right, Billy would always answer."
And then, as the morning progressed, the reporters arrived
and then we found out it was Billy. It was very, very sad.
Immediately, I thought to myself, I can't think of anybody who
would want to murder anyone, let alone Billy.
And that was a day that you just would never forget.
Billy owned Tara Guesthouse, I'm sure it's 20 years or more.
And it started as bedsits and he built it up, bit by bit.
And he worked on it until it's now about 14 rooms, all ensuite.
It was just his pride and his joy and he just loved it.
At the start, he was cook, cleaner, he did everything,
and he was there 24/7, it was sort of his wee life, really.
Everybody loved Billy. He was a great character.
He was very, very generous, very, very kind, and people loved him.
He was a people person.
He was someone who loved to have people around him.
He was a friend to everyone.
Billy Spence was a man who always saw the best in people.
His generous nature was widely acknowledged,
but, in the end, he paid for it with his life.
Debbie McMaster was the senior investigating officer on the case.
She arrived at the Tara Guesthouse at 8am on the 1st July 2008
and proceeded to the crime scene at the rear of the house.
I immediately noticed that there was an elderly man, which we now know
was Billy, lying in a prone position, surrounded in a pool of blood.
He was lying beside an ironing board that had been tipped over
and that too was covered in blood,
bloody footmarks surrounding him.
There was also a black handle of a knife, without the blade,
a short distance from the body.
And, looking up to the roof, there was a hole in the Perspex roof.
It had been smashed as though something or someone had fallen through it.
Beyond that was his private bathroom.
In the shower there was a pair of jeans that had been soaked.
This obviously was to wash any bloodstain from the jeans.
I then went into what was Billy's private bedroom
and I noticed a lot of articles lying on his bed.
The CCTV unit that was in his bedroom had been switched off
and there was a broken CD lying on the floor.
This looked to me like a burglary that perhaps had gone wrong
and then, realising that there was CCTV footage, also an attempt
to destroy any evidence that we could possibly obtain through that.
Despite the unpromising state of the CCTV equipment,
it was to prove critical as the investigation progressed.
Meanwhile, the forensics team was called upon to examine
the extensive distribution of blood at the scene of the crime.
Inside the bathroom itself there were
a series of drops of blood on the floor
and these had formed passively.
In other words, they had fallen directly from an open wound
directly onto the tiles of the bathroom floor.
And there were some drops actually on the outer side of the door.
This would give the impression that someone was actually injured,
seriously cut, whilst they were in the bathroom
and then they have proceeded out into the laundry room.
So it might suggest that the initial part of the attack had occurred
in the bathroom before Mr Spence had been killed in the laundry room.
It appeared to be a repeated series of stabs
both to the head and to the body.
And because the body was lying on its back,
it gave the appearance that these had actually been directed downwards.
It would appear that Mr Spence didn't offer
a great deal of resistance at that stage.
He hadn't moved about very much on the floor,
he hadn't been struggling with his attacker,
yet he was continuing to be stabbed and wounded about the face and body.
It was obvious that the knife handle which was
lying near the feet of the body, the blade had been broken off,
and we put a considerable amount of effort into trying to find that knife blade.
When it came into the laboratory, it was bloodstained.
The forensics officers hoped the knife would lead them to the killer,
but a pair of training shoes located in the bathroom
would also prove to be of vital importance.
The sole pattern from these shoes
appeared to be in the blood beside the body.
These footmarks had all been made by the same outsole pattern,
in other words all made by the same pair of shoes.
In fact, you could actually see, in the mark, the word "Lacoste",
running the whole length of the mark, from toe to heel.
There was a fairly good chance that actually these shoes had belonged to the attacker.
And the attacker, realising that he's heavily bloodstained,
has taken them off, changed his clothing.
It was important for us to identify who these shoes could have come from
so we swabbed the inners around the tongue and the straps
which were used for fastening the shoes.
I requested that the footwear be submitted to the laboratory for further examination.
Police were puzzled by the motivation of a killer
who would make a cursory attempt to dispose of evidence,
but ultimately leave so many vital clues at the scene of the crime.
I examined the body of the deceased at Belfast City Mortuary
and observed that he had a bruise on his forehead.
The bruise comprised the letter C and the letter O.
Finding a bruise like that on the deceased's forehead,
which matched the outsoles of a pair of training shoes,
would indicate in my opinion
that someone had kicked, stomped or jumped on his head.
Having seen the level of violence
that had been inflicted on Billy Spence,
police were eager to catch the culprit as quickly as possible.
Our initial investigation led us to a very important witness
who happened to see a male person at the front of Tara Guesthouse
somewhere in the region of about 11.20 on that evening.
He noticed him going round the back of his premises
and he goes out and challenges him.
He says, "What are you at?"
This male climbs over the fence
and makes off along the back entry of Princetown Road.
The neighbour of Billy's,
actually having chased this youth away from his property,
goes to bed about 10r 15 minutes later and looks out and actually sees
Billy Spence returning home, and he notices him lifting bags from the boot of his car
and entering the rear of his house at 49 Princetown Road.
As it turned out, there was a further witness closer to home.
One of the Billy Spence's own guests had heard activity
outside his bedroom window
and looked out to find a hole in the Perspex roof below.
It would seem very likely that the culprit,
having seen an open window,
had tried to use this entrance to get into the house
and in doing so fell through the Perspex roof.
This particular guest had gone to sleep for a period of time
and had been woken some time in the early hours of the morning,
about 3:00am, or thereabouts, by someone opening his bedroom door.
He noticed that this person was just wearing a pair of boxer shorts
and he thought this very strange.
The guest asked, "Is there something wrong?" He replied:
"Security check. Is everything OK?"
This particular guest thinks this is strange
and he gets up out of bed and opens the door
and sees this young male walking down the hall
with just a pair of boxer shorts on and carrying a key,
which we believe was probably the master key to the rooms.
Then he goes back to his room
and tries to settle down again for the night.
He lies for about 15 or 20 minutes, can't settle, then gets up
and puts his dressing gown on
and goes downstairs to see what's happening.
He comes across a young male who he believes is the male
that came into his bedroom carrying a bag over his shoulder and dressed
and he confronts him and says, "Where are you going?"
And this young male tells him, "I'm going to work."
And he leaves the premises.
What really took place in the house that night would never be fully explained,
but internal CCTV footage would prove instrumental
in fitting the pieces together.
The digital recorded in Tara guest house was damaged by the suspect.
But it was only the CD DVD disk drive on the front of the unit
that was maybe hit by an object.
But the hard drive disk embedded inside the machine was perfectly intact.
The first thing I noticed on the footage
was a male person enter the porch.
He was wearing a hooded dark top.
He puts his arm through the letterbox
and tries to force the door from the inside, obviously looking for a key.
He gives up after a while and leaves.
A short time later, he's picked up inside the hallway of Tara
and then we see, again a short time later, that he's taken his top off
and he's walking round the lower part of the house
carrying a knife.
He came from one hallway
across into the next, comes through the adjoining door
and looks up into the second camera,
where we get a really good frontal view.
Once we got a clear picture, I was asked to leave the room
because this was then a police controlled piece of evidence.
The next thing we saw on the footage was Mr Spence arriving home
at the rear of the house in his car at approximately 11:50pm.
He opens the boot of the car and retrieves shopping from the boot
and brings it in through the back door of the guesthouse.
About 10 minutes later, shortly before midnight,
Mr Spence comes up through the house to the front door
and appears to lock the outside front door
and come back in through the porch door
we had earlier seen the youth try to force.
It's a bit alarming at this stage because we were aware at that stage
that this youth was still inside the house when Mr Spence arrived home.
The CCTV system, we know, was turned off at 12:19am.
So we believe, having seen Billy come into the house,
that the murder has occurred some time between 12:00am and 12:19am,
when the computer has been turned off.
The footage was shown to officers at Bangor Police Station
in an attempt to identify the youth.
It proved fruitless
and the team had to resort to other means of identification.
On Thursday the 3rd of July 2008, accompanied by another officer,
I went to the Simon Community in Central Avenue in Bangor.
As part of normal procedure, I would have checked hostels,
guesthouses, anywhere near the scene of the murder in close proximity.
I introduced myself to a member of staff
and she informed me that staff were conducting a meeting
with the assistant director of the Simon Community
and thought it was important that I come into the meeting.
The meeting had been called to discuss a resident named James McCoy,
whose recent behaviour had worried staff.
They were quite concerned about Mr McCoy's behaviour,
especially over the last few days from the 1st of July.
-You can't get in. You're drunk.
-I'm not drunk.
Go away and sober up for an hour and then come back.
'James had been last seen by the night porter shortly after 10:00pm on the evening of the 30th of June.
'He noticed James had been drinking'
and wouldn't allow him into the Simon Community because of their no-drink policy.
He hadn't returned until 8:20am the following morning,
on the 1st of July.
When James McCoy returned,
he was wearing ill-fitting clothes that clearly didn't belong to him
and was carrying a black holdall which staff had never seen before.
I was then shown CCTV footage, internal CCTV footage,
recorded inside the Simon Community.
I got a clear view of James.
It was obvious that this was the same person we had seen
and identified in the Tara Guesthouse
on the evening of the 30th of June
and the early hours of the 1st of July.
A short time later, I think it was about 12:15pm,
I was made aware by a member of staff that James had returned to the Simon Community.
He'd come in through the back door. I was standing in the reception area.
I then approached James, made him aware of my identity
and restrained James because I wasn't sure at that stage
whether or not he still had the knife in his possession.
James McCoy, I'm arresting you on suspicion of the murder of William Spence.
Staff immediately entered McCoy's room
and seized the articles of clothing, which they thought to be suspect.
These items were then taken for forensic examination
which later established that the items did in fact belong to Mr Spence.
They were obviously taken from Tara Guesthouse.
James McCoy was interviewed in Bangor Police Station.
He was interviewed a total of 10 times
between the 3rd of July to the 5th of July.
Throughout his interviews, he told blatant lies
to such an extent
that he made stories up that were easily refuted.
OK, James. Why did you murder William Spence?
-What was your involvement in the murder of William Spence?
He gave an alibi that he had got the last bus from Bangor to Ards
and got off at Ards, met up with friends, consumed drugs and alcohol,
blanked out for a period of time,
woke up and got a taxi from Ards to his mother's house.
You told us you got the last bus to Ards.
The last bus to Ards is at 10:20pm.
But you were seen leaving the hostel at 10:25pm. That's lies.
-I was blocked and I was stoned.
-When I came out...
You told me... You told me what you'd done.
Sometimes blow does that to you.
I'm telling you, you told me lies.
You told me lies, OK? That's all I'm saying.
We checked the footage, the internal footage of the bus.
You're not on the bus.
We know from the CCTV footage that we had already obtained from Bangor
that James McCoy didn't get a taxi from Ards.
We know in fact that he got a taxi from Bangor between 4:30am and 5:00am
to his mother's house in Ballywalter.
Police were able to locate the taxi driver,
who confirmed that a young male, carrying a black holdall
had journeyed from Bangor to Ballywalter
in the early hours of July the 1st.
He placed the black holdall he was carrying in the back seat
and he got into the front seat beside the taxi driver
and he chatted to him on route from Bangor to Ballywalter.
-Are you the person having the conversation with the taxi driver regarding the army?
-Would you be willing to undergo an identification parade if you're not the person in the taxi?
You're not willing to?
During the interviews, James was asked what he had been doing that day
and he expressed that he had consumed quite a lot of alcohol
throughout the day and into the later part of the evening.
We have CCTV footage which would confirm that.
James had been drinking at the rear of the Simon Community on the evening of the 30th of June.
He'd been drinking for some time and staff were quite concerned
and I think at one stage the police were called and moved them on.
At a later stage, they returned and James had been quite abusive
to a member of staff from the Simon Community.
James had a Rangers football top on
and he knows within the Simon Community, they're not allowed
to wear any football tops that would antagonise people
and that would appear to be the frame of mind that he was in that evening, accompanied by a lot of alcohol.
He was slightly aggressive and aggravating.
Is that you in the photograph, James?
I wasn't there but.
Let's go back. This is you in the photograph.
It looks like me but it's not me because I've got a twin brother.
This is you in the photograph here. You've said it's you.
This male with the knife. Are you saying it's your twin brother?
-What's the name of your twin brother?
-Where does Mark live?
-Whereabouts in England?
Whereabouts in Manchester?
-I don't know. I never went to see him.
-I'll ask you again.
Is that you with the knife in the photograph?
Or are you going to continue with this ridiculous story about your twin brother?
-You're on camera here.
You've got a large knife in your hand. What has happened?
-What has happened in the Tara Guesthouse?
It's just my fishing knife.
That is you with your knife?
Yeah. But it's blunt.
McCoy's far-fetched twin brother theory was no stranger
than the details which were yet to emerge from the interviews.
McCoy had used Tara Guesthouse on many occasions
when access to the Simon Community had been denied.
He was familiar with the layout of the house,
the habits of the owner and the house rules.
It was later revealed that McCoy had been caught on the premises
several times by Billy Spence,
but the good-natured landlord had given the troubled youth
the benefit of the doubt and failed to report the incidents to the police.
So do you go there on a regular basis?
-When I've been kicked out.
And do you go in and stay in a room?
No. I just go and sleep in the toilets until I sober up.
OK. And do you know or did you know William Spence?
Just a wee bit.
We know that Billy has entered the house,
checked the lock on the front door
and at some stage shortly after that, Billy has confronted James McCoy,
who I believe has been in his private bedroom washroom area at the time.
Hey! What are you doing in my room?
What made you go mad, James?
The drugs. And the drink.
-Did you grab him first of all?
Did he grab you and try to throw you out?
Did he say, "There's James in my guesthouse again.
"I've told you before, get out"?
I'm putting it to you that you just lost it.
You said, "I'll show you."
You're running about with a big knife in your left hand.
-That doesn't mean anything.
-What sparked this, James?
-I'm calling the police.
-Tell the truth.
-I didn't kill him.
-MAN SCREAMS Tell the truth.
OK, I'm going to go through with you the injuries that you inflicted on him.
He has large defence wounds.
He has knife cuts to both hands.
He's tried to grab the blade of the knife, that's what's happened.
-You remember that?
I don't remember nothing.
Now, a postmortem is being carried out.
And the preliminary cause of death is due to stab wounds and trauma to the head.
Now, there is a footwear pattern on his head.
Will that pattern come back to be your training shoes?
-They're not mine.
-The blade of the knife is at least 14.5cm long.
That's how deeply he was stabbed.
-Did you stab him?
Did you jump on his head?
-Are you sure, James?
James McCoy had been seen leaving Tara guesthouse around 4am
on the morning of 1 July.
What are those keys?
Police were therefore keen to know what McCoy had been doing
on the premises in the hours that followed his attack on Billy Spence.
During our investigation, there was a computer,
which was located near the scene of the murder.
And beside that computer, there was a sheet of paper
that indicated that pornographic material was being printed out.
From that, we carried out analysis on the computer,
and the computer activity started at 11:28,
and died off again then at 11.35.
It resumed activity at 12.59, and was in use continuously
until 3:23 in the morning.
Google was used to access pornographic websites and Bebo.
And not only that, he had also used Billy Spence's credit card
to access these.
When you were at the computer, were you masturbating?
Forensic examinations are ongoing at that scene.
And obviously they're being painstakingly done,
but in the area of the computer station, there is semen.
As the investigation progressed,
we were getting some forensic results through, some very quickly,
and the fact that the trainers that were found in Billy's washroom,
within 36 hours, we were able to say that the habitual wearer
of those trainers was James McCoy.
And that was good to the effect
that we were able to put that to James McCoy during interview.
You're on camera with a knife.
You've turned off the CCTV system in an attempt to cover your tracks.
You've tried to clean your jeans.
You have left your training shoes in a panic, covered in blood.
We have already proved that you're the wearer of the shoes.
When I introduced that,
you changed your story to suit the new evidence that I introduced.
-And I've caught you out.
-Aye, dead on(!)
And you're sitting here,
and you can't show the slightest bit of remorse for what you done.
Is there anything you want to say before we close this interview down, James?
I never done nothing.
It got to the stage where we, as the police, had sufficient evidence
and we had put everything to him that we could possibly put to him
to give them an opportunity to say his side of the story.
And he still denied it.
So it got to the stage, late on Saturday evening,
when we charged James McCoy with the murder of Billy Spence.
James William McCoy is charged with murdering Billy Spence
here at the Tara Guesthouse on Tuesday.
He's 19, and his address was given in court as the Simon Community Hostel
at Central Avenue in Bangor.
James McCoy continued to plead not guilty,
until the first day of his trial in January, 2010,
when he changed his plea to guilty.
The defence had described McCoy as a vulnerable young man,
because of his circumstances and mental health problems.
He was convicted of murder and aggravated burglary
and given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 12and-a-half years.
In my work, I would see death a fair amount, obviously, so I would.
But when I look at the death of Billy, I struggle with it greatly,
because of the violence.
It just didn't sink in.
You just didn't think that that could happen to Billy.
You know, he was the nicest man ever, and you just thought,
"Who on Earth would ever have done that to him?"
I don't go round there any more.
I've nothing to go there for any more.
I'd rather stay at this side of the road.
It's too... It's sad. Big gap.
I think with Billy's sad passing,
a great hole has been left in the town of Bangor.
He probably didn't realise how much he was respected.
Not just locally, but farther afield.
And if I may, I would like to read a card here
that was sent from a young man called Stephen.
"I needed to say something. I am deeply sorry for your loss.
"I lived in Billy's house for a few years in the late '80s.
"I was going through a strange time in my life,
"but his kindness to me went way beyond giving me a home.
"Billy fed me often, talked to me and gave me time and counsel and advice
"that has had a lasting, positive influence on my life."
That's only one card of many cards
and letters that came in to the family at that time.
And I think that it showed just what a sense of loss there really is
in this tragedy.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Crime documentary series examining four successfully-solved murder cases from Northern Ireland, featuring dramatic reconstruction, expert witnesses and archive footage. The victims' relatives speak about the pain of their loss and the devastating impact it has had on their lives.