In 1977 an army officer working undercover in Northern Ireland was captured by the IRA, tortured then shot. His body was never found. Three of the killers of Captain Robert Nairac of the Grenadier Guards have already been identified and convicted but it has always been known that many more were involved.
Kevin Crilly of Co Armagh, one of the wanted men has now also been charged with Nairac’s murder. He had earlier escaped to the US where he had spent most of the last 30 years, but returned home to NI when a long term relationship broke down.
The case of Robert Nairac raises contrasting views. Some saw him as a brave undercover operator, others as a maverick who was an accident waiting to happen. Whatever the view, one of his murderers, IRA Commander Liam Towson called Nairac “…one of the bravest men I ever met. He told us nothing.”
There have been repeated calls for the IRA to give up the location of his burial place, but to no avail. Many believe this reluctance is due to the sustained brutality that Nairac suffered prior to his murder.
Nairac was, according to ex UDR officers, trying to make contact with the UDA (a Loyalist group engaged in their own war with the IRA) who would like to “take on the IRA at their own game”. It was also evident to them that Nairac was part of a specialist SAS trained intelligence group that had their own complete support infrastructure outside of the mainstream army. There have been subsequent allegations that the army was engaged in covert operations supplying organisations like the UDA with intelligence and equipment to target and take out IRA operatives. Something that would be considered totally illegal if true.
Nairac made forays into Southern Ireland to make contacts, which worried some of his NI colleagues who tried to distance themselves from him.
Nairac was last seen by army authorities when he left for an intelligence gathering operation in the Three Steps Inn in Domintree, South Armagh. Real bandit country. After posing unsuccessfully as a Danny McErlene, he was abducted after a bloody fight for his life, tortured and killed.
Captain Nairac was later awarded the George Cross for bravery in 1978.