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25 years on.. and the death of army undercover agent Robert Nairac is shrouded in mystery; BODY FED TO GRINDERS AT MEAT PLANT SAYS PROVO.

Byline: CHRIS ANDERSON

AFTER a quarter of a century, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and murder of British Army undercover soldier, Captain Robert Nairac, have still to be fully explained.

Despite exhaustive search operations by security service personnel on both sides of the border at the time of his disappearance the body of the 29-year-old Grenadier Guards officer has never been recovered.

He vanished on May 14, 1977, and the final hours of his life in the so-called "bandit country", of south Armagh remain shrouded in mystery.

Why did he travel to the Three Steps Inn at Drumintee, south Armagh, alone and without a military back-up?

Why was he there, with whom was he meeting and what happened to his body?

What role was Capt Nairac playing for the army at the time of his death?

At 9.30pm on Saturday, May 14, 1977, Capt Nairac left Bessbrook Mill in a red Triumph Toledo car fitted with an army radio and hidden microphone.

Earlier he had told colleagues he was heading for the Three Steps Inn near Drumintee, a staunchly republican stronghold. However, no reason was given for his visit that night.

Armed only with a 9mm Browning pistol, Capt Nairac refused the offer of back-uptelling the SAS duty officer he would only be gone for a couple of hours.

At 9.58pm, he used his radio to report that he had arrived at the Three Steps and was ending radio contact with the operations room in Bessbrook Mill.

Unknown to his army colleagues at Bessbrook, Capt Nairac, had visited the Three Steps on several occasions in the two weeks prior to his death. His last visit was his second in two nights.

There were over 100 people in the pub that particular night. The John Murphy band from nearby Creggan provided entertainment for the crowd.

Around 11.15pm Capt Nairac, using the cover name, Danny McAlevey from Belfast, sang the IRA song, The Broad Black Brimmer.

Later, as the evening drew to a close, he returned to the bar and the company of those he had been sitting with.

Republican sources said they believed Nairac visited the Three Steps to meet a contact he had asked to obtain specific information on the Provos.

The rendezvous had been arranged for the car park of the Three Steps Inn.

However, the contact failed to provide the vital information Capt Nairac needed and an argument broke out.

According to the sources, Nairac produced a gun during the struggle. However, the contact broke free and called out to two other men, telling then Nairac was a ''Brit'' and was armed.

In the subsequent melee, Capt Nairac was thrown to the ground and kicked semi-conscious.

He was then bundled into the back of a bronze coloured Ford Cortina and driven across the border at Ravensdale and into Co Louth. Another car followed the Cortina containing Nairac and his abductors.

After entering the Republic, both cars drove along a narrow road before stopping at a small humped backed bridge spanning the Flurry River.

Nairac was pulled out of the car and taken into a small field beside the river, his captors mounting guard over him as they decided what to do.

Another man was brought from Dundalk to interrogate the undercover soldier, who it was believed was a member of the SAS.

Capt Nairac was beaten and pistol-whipped by his captors. At one stage, still semi-conscious he made a feeble attempt to escape. However, he was once again overpowered and beaten almost senseless with wooden stakes.

The Grenadier Guards officer was then trailed further into the field and a gun was placed to his head.

Capt Nairac, a Catholic, knowing he was about to die, asked for a priest. Instead he was told to say a prayer.

Moments later the army officer was dead, shot in the head at close range.

His killers made good their escape back to the republican boltholes of Dundalk and south Armagh.

Back at Bessbrook Mill, at 12.15am on Sunday, May 15, 1977, the army relayed the news to its units in Northern Ireland that Capt Nairac was missing.

The ensuing search for the missing army officer involved over 300 troops and 100 extra police officers.

Army foot patrols scoured the area around Drumintee and roadblocks were set up to check and monitor the movement of vehicles in the area.

The operation proved fruitless and on Monday, May 16, 1977, the Provsional IRA issued a statement saying they had executed Captain Robert Nairac.

The statement claimed that the army officer had admitted being a member of the SAS. In contrast to other murders of army personnel, on this occasion the IRA did not reveal the location of the murdered soldier's body.

However, in a dramatic revelation this week, a former senior republican in Dundalk confirmed to the Sunday Mirror that the rumours Robert Nairac's body had in fact been ''disposed of'' at a meat processing plant in the Ravensdale area were true.

The republican said: ''The body was moved within hours of him being shot dead. It was later taken to the meat plant in Ravensdale factory and put through the machines. There was nothing left to show he had ever existed.

"It was easy to do as most of the boys on night shift in the meat plant were OTR's (on the runs). The management had any idea what had happened.

"The IRA made a mistake in this instance, the body should have been returned for burial. The Nairac killing was an amateur job from start to finish.

"The manner of his death embarrassed senior IRA men in the area''.

In June 1977, a month after Nairac disappeared, Liam Townson, a 24 year-old unemployed joiner from south Armagh, appeared at a special criminal court in Dublin charged with the murder of the Grenadier Guards officer.

Later that year Townson, the son of an English civil servant, was found guilty of the murder of Robert Nairac and sentenced to life.

At the same time in Northern Ireland, the RUC arrested five south Armagh men in connection with the murder. Two other men suspected of having been involved fled to the United States.

Three of those arrested, Gerard Fearon, Thomas Morgan and Daniel O'Rourke were charged with murder. The two others, Michael McCoy and Owen Rocks, were also charged with offences in relation to the death of Robert Nairac.

All five men received sentences ranging from three years to life imprisonment. Strangely none of those convicted in relation to the murder of Captain Nairac served more than the minimum possible term in prison.

On their release, O'Rourke and Rocks became election workers for Sinn Fein. McCoy and Fearon also returned to the south Armagh area.

Morgan, who was released from prison in 1986, was later killed in an accident with a concrete mixer.

Liam Townson walked free from prison in 1990, having served just 12 years of a life sentence. He returned to the south Armagh area near Meigh where he still lives. He has never spoken publicly about the murder of Robert Nairac.

Attempts to establish contact with Liam Townson at his home this week proved unsuccessful.

Since his death 25 years ago, rumours have been rife about the real role Robert Nairac played out in the killing fields of south Armagh.

There was never an official explanation about what he was doing there or how he disappeared - and the lack of details have led to many myths about the man.

History certainly has created a place for Captain Robert Nairac.

He was posthumously awarded the George Cross for gallantry and is portrayed as a true British hero.

He was often seen as the Guards officer who worked undercover for the SAS in the murky intelligence war against the IRA, and cruelly done to death in the execution of his duty for Queen and country.

However, his name does not appear on the SAS memorial clock tower at Hereford - an honour reserved for all deceased SAS personnel.

This indicates Nairac was not in fact a member of the SAS. Instead, it appears he was attached to 14 Intelligence Company, operating in Northern Ireland.

Many loyalists in the mid-Ulster area, however, have other recollections of the Grenadier officer turned intelligence gatherer.

There are alarming claims that Nairac was instrumental is setting up a number of UDR soldiers in Co Armagh for assassination by the IRA as a means to achieving his objective of infiltrating the republican movement.

It is understood the UDR soldiers all belonged to the Regiment's 2nd Battalion based in Co Armagh and operating in the Whitecross and Newtonhamilton areas in the 1970's.

The son of one of the murdered UDR soldiers told the Sunday Mirror he has no doubt his father's assassination was orchestrated by Capt Nairac.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said: ''I am in no doubt that my father and at least four of his colleagues were set up by Nairac.

"He knew them individually, their movements, homes, everything. He set them up to be killed by the IRA.

"My father and his friends were sacrificed as a direct result of Nairac's efforts to infiltrate the IRA''.

Capt Nairac is also believed to have worked as a handler for a number of loyalist paramilitaries.

One of the paramilitaries, Robin Jackson was also known as ''the Jackal''. He is alleged to have been involved in a series of notorious killings, including those of the Miami Showband and IRA commander, John Francis Green.

Another series of anomalies, which surround Capt Nairac, arise out of the inquest into his death conducted by Dundalk Coroner, Thomas Scully in October 1978.

A death certificate, issued on information supplied by Mr Scully, states clearly that Nairac's death occurred on May 18, 1977 - four days after Liam Townson shot him.

What is the reason for the difference in the date of death and who supplied this information to Thomas Scully?

Under the cause of death, the certificate states: ''Unknown - body not available for post-mortem examination."

The question must be asked: How can an inquest be held in the absence of a body?

The date the death was registered is given as October 16, 1978, - 13 days after the inquest itself was adjourned on October 5.

Other statements and accounts of the death of Robert Nairac presented at the 1978 inquest at Dundalk also gave reason for concern.

Perhaps the most bizarre surfaced a few years ago when a Liverpool-born woman named Nel Lister, aka, Oonagh Flynn, claimed she had married Capt Nairac in a civil ceremony in Donegal town in April 1976 and the murdered soldier was the father of her son.

A subsequent DNA test concluded that Capt Nairac was not the father of Robert Lister Jnr.

A search of the marriages carried out in the Irish Republic between 1975 and 1977 failed to produce any record of the marriage.

At the time, Nel Lister claimed to have written a book about her life with Captain Nairac. The book, entitled The Minstrel Boy, was supposed to be published last year, but has so far failed to materialise.

Whether or not the real truth about Capt Nairac will ever emerge is debatable. For 25 years the British MoD has remained tight-lipped about the matter.

It is unlikely they will change that policy. They are content with the hero image afforded to Bob Nairac and certainly prefer that image to remain unsullied.

However, as more and more evidence about the activities of Nairac and his intelligence colleagues surfaces, difficult questions will be asked of the MoD.

The answers to those very same questions may well reveal the truth about Capt Robert Nairac, George Cross.

CAPTION(S):

ENIGMA: Dark theories surround the role dashing Grenadier Guards officer Capt Robert Nairac played in Northern Ireland; PUZZLE: Capt Nairac was taken from the Three Steps Inn, south Armagh, and shot near a bridge over the Flurry River in Co Louth, but even his death certificate raises more questions than answers
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 12, 2002
Words:2007
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