Robert Nairac

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Robert Nairac (born 31 August 1948 in Mauritius)[1] was a British officer serving in Northern Ireland, when he was killed on 14 May 1977. He was abducted and killed by the IRA while visiting a bar in South Armagh.[2]

Northern Ireland

Nairac’s first tour of duty in Northern Ireland was in Belfast from July to November 1973, after which he completed a training course run by the SAS.[3]

Special Reconnaissance Unit

The Barron Report notes that Nairac returned to Northern Ireland in 1974:

Much confusion exists concerning his role at that time, but it appears that he was attached to Four Field Survey Troop – a sub-unit of a Special Duties unit known as 14th Intelligence (14 Int). Four Field Survey Troop was officially tasked with surveillance duties. Nairac seems to have acted as a liaison officer between his unit, the local Army brigade and the RUC Special Branch.
However, he also seems to have taken on tasks which were wholly outside his jurisdiction as a liaison officer – working undercover, developing contacts amongst loyalist and republican paramilitaries.[4]

Some years after his death, former Army intelligence officer Fred Holroyd made a number of allegations about Nairac's activities.

He was keen and brave , if a little rash, but totally committed to the war against the terrorists. However, there was another side to Robert that I was to learn about. The unit he was involved with, with the cover title '4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers' was located at Castle Dillon with a genuine engineer regiment. It had a second level of cover as 'Northern Ireland Training and Tactics Team' (NITAT).[5]

Holroyd elaborated on Nairac's role in an unpublished letter to the Guardian:

4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers does not appear on the official list of Sapper units in Ulster for the three years mentioned. This is not surprising as the title was the first layer of cover which hid the fact that it was an SAS Troop. It's two Officers Commanding in my time were both infantry officers currently serving in 22 SAS Regiment, the second of these was Captain Julian (Tony) Ball, KOSB. His 2i/c was Captain Robert Nairac. The CSM, NCO's and operational members were either former, serving or recently trained SAS personnel.[6]

Liam Clarke describes Nairac's role as follows:

The official job of the former Oxford boxing blue and Grenadier Guard was liaison officer between Bessbrook military base and covert organisations such as the SAS and RUC Special Branch. Nairac had spent some time training with the SAS and was a founder member of a related covert intelligence unit known as the Det.[7]

Clarke's account questions notions that Nairac was a 'rogue agent':

“Robert was tasked directly from Headquarters Northern Ireland. So he wasn’t really under my control,” says Brigadier Peter Morton, the army commander in south Armagh at the time. “I was not surprised when Nairac was abducted. I could never understand how he could leave the army base in Bessbrook in his car, go to pubs in republican areas and return to base without expecting to be followed or traced.”[8]

The 1974 briefing Army Plain Clothes Patrols in Northern Ireland states that the Special Reconnaissance Unit reported directly to Headquarters Northern Ireland, and that it operated under the cover name Northern Ireland Training and Tactics Team (Northern Ireland).[9] The emergence of this document in 2006 confirmed key elements of Holroyd's account of the unit.[10] Nairac would therefore seem to have been a officer of the Special Reconnaissance Unit, which is consistent with Morton's account of his chain of command. 14th Intelligence and the Det may be identical to the Special Reconnaissance Unit.

The 1993 Yorkshire Television documentary, Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre cites a former member of Four Field Survey Troop on Nairac's role:

'Nairac's job at Castledillon when I was there was as a source handler. He was getting Intelligence and had contact on both sides.[11]

Loyalist contacts

The Hidden Hand documentary cited both loyalist and security sources as linking Nairac to loyalists involved in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings:

In particular, that three prime Dublin suspects - Robert McConnell, Harris Boyle and the man called the Jackal - were run before and after the Dublin bombing by Captain Nairac.
That three of the Dublin bomb suspects at the time of the outrage were run by Nairac has been confirmed to us by a series of security force sources from 1974. They include officers from the RUC Special Branch, CID and Special Patrol Group; officers from the Garda Special Branch.
And key senior loyalists who were in charge of the county Armagh paramilitaries of the day also confirm the Nairac connection.[12]

John Francis Green

Holroyd claimed in his book War Without Honour that Nairac admitted to him his involvement in the killing of IRA man John Francis Green in the Republic, and gave him a photograph of Green's body which Holroyd turned over to the RUC. Holroyd also stated that ballistic evidence linked the Green killing with the Miami Showband massacre, and with a group of loyalists who would later become known as the Glennane Gang.[13]

Holroyd insisted that the polaroid he had been given showed a dark window and fresh blood, and was to be distinguished from pictures taken by the Garda the next day.[14] However, the Barron Report concluded that polaroid was a Garda photograph.[15]

On the other hand, other details given by Nairac to Holroyd concerning the type of guns used, the departure of Carvill from the house some time before the killing took place, and the fact that the front door was forced open – all these matters were confirmed by the Garda investigation and were not details which Holroyd or Nairac would have been expected to know. A further allegation, that a white car was used by the killers, found some support in the sighting of an unidentified white car travelling towards the scene at around 7.20 p.m.[16]

The Barron Report cites John Weir as telling Liam Clarke that Nairac was with Green's killers:

“The men who did that shooting were Robert McConnell, Robin Jackson and I would be almost certain, Harris Boyle who was killed in the Miami attack. What I am absolutely certain of is that Robert McConnell, Robert McConnell knew that area really, really well. Robin Jackson was with him. I was later told that Nairac was with them. I was told by… a UVF man, he was very close to Jackson and operated with him. Jackson told [him] that Nairac was with them.”[17]

IRA contacts

According to Clarke, Patrick Mercer heard rumours that Nairac had offered his services to the IRA, and remembers him openly visiting republican bars.

“He never told us anything, he just said, ‘Come back in a couple of hours’, or ‘I’ll call you’,” Mercer recalls. “Though I don’t know how he was going to call me because he never carried a radio. A couple of times we managed to intercept him when he came out of the bar; a couple of times he just wandered back into camp without his weapon. He was a familiar figure around the town – the soldiers thought he was marvellous, a romantic figure. The locals all called him Danny Boy.”[18]

Clarke also cites a number of other sources, including John Weir and Willie Frazer:

At the time of Nairac’s death, John Weir, a police officer and loyalist sym-pathiser, was using a local haulier, Packy Reel, as an informant. Reel told Weir that Nairac had tried to infiltrate the IRA by pretending to be its friend and helping it in an attempt to win trust. Weir claims that Nairac used Reel’s house to move explosives across the border for the IRA.
Nairac also stands accused of betraying to the IRA the names of a group of loyalists who were secretly working with the special forces. Willie Frazer believes that his father Bertie, a part-time soldier shot dead by the IRA in 1975, was one of those compromised by Nairac. “The IRA knew who they were targeting,” he says.

[19]

Notes

  1. Special forces Roll of Honour Robert Nairac, accessed 3 January 2010
  2. David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea, Lost Lives, Mainstream Publishing, 2004, p. 722
  3. Barron Report into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, 2003, p.135.
  4. Barron Report into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, 2003, p.135.
  5. Fred Holroyd, War Without Honour, Medium Publishing, 1989, p47.
  6. Letter from Fred Holroyd to The Guardian, Lobster magazine, Issue 16, June 1998.
  7. Liam Clarke, Murdered maverick Robert Nairac showed how to beat the IRA, Sunday Times, 25 May 2008.
  8. Liam Clarke, Murdered maverick Robert Nairac showed how to beat the IRA, Sunday Times, 25 May 2008.
  9. Defensive Brief D Meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach 5 April 1974 Army Plain Clothes Patrols in Northern Ireland, National Archives PREM 16/154.
  10. Robin Ramsay, The View From The Bridge, Fred Holroyd vindicated, Lobster Magazine, Winter 2006/07.
  11. Don Mullan, The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, Wolfhound Press, 2000, p.162.
  12. Don Mullan, The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, Wolfhound Press, 2000, p.162.
  13. Fred Holroyd, War Without Honour, Medium Publishing, 1989, p47.
  14. Fred Holroyd, War Without Honour, Medium Publishing, 1989, pp79-80.
  15. Barron Report into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, 2003, p.192.
  16. Barron Report into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, 2003, p.193.
  17. Barron Report into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, 2003, p.206.
  18. Liam Clarke, Murdered maverick Robert Nairac showed how to beat the IRA, Sunday Times, 25 May 2008.
  19. Liam Clarke, Murdered maverick Robert Nairac showed how to beat the IRA, Sunday Times, 25 May 2008.