A man was today charged with the 1977 murder of Captain Robert Nairac, the British army undercover officer killed by the IRA in what is regarded as one of the most intriguing incidents of the troubles.
Captain Nairac was abducted by IRA members after visiting a bar in the strongly republican south Armagh district and tortured before being shot dead. His body has never been recovered.
The question of what exactly the officer was doing in the bar has been the subject of a number of television programmes and books. He received a posthumous George Cross and is regarded as a hero by the authorities.
But the mysteries of his life and death have spawned many conspiracy theories, some of which claim he was linked with loyalist assassins who carried out killings and attacks on the Irish Republic.
Yesterday, Kevin Crilly, 59, from Lower Foughill Road in Jonesborough, Co Armagh, had a murder charge put to him as he appeared at Newry Magistrates Court for a routine bail hearing on two lesser counts.
Earlier this year he had been charged with kidnapping and falsely imprisoning Captain Nairac, a member of the Grenadier Guards. A police investigation was reopened following a BBC documentary examining the murder.
Am earlier hearing was told that the accused had voluntarily made contact with the police Historical Enquiries Team after the broadcast.
The murder charge is the latest in a series of legal sequels to the killing, including three murder convictions.
A man was convicted of the murder in the 1980s in Dublin and released on parole after serving 12 years in prison. In Belfast five south Armagh men were charged, two of them receiving life sentences for murder while a third served a 10-year sentence for manslaughter.
The officer’s George Cross citation stated: “Robert Nairac was subjected to a succession of very exceptionally savage assaults in an attempt to extract information which would have put other lives and future operations at serious risk.
“These efforts to break his will failed entirely. Weakened as he was in strength – though not in spirit – by the brutality, he yet made repeated and spirited attempts to escape, but on each occasion was eventually overpowered by the weight of the numbers against him.”
Captain Nairac, who was 29 when he died, was educated at the Catholic public school Ampleforth, at Oxford University, and Sandhurst military college.
On the evening of his death he visited a pub frequented by republicans, reputedly attempting to pass himself off as a republican from Belfast and singing Irish rebel songs.
The idea of an army officer successfully convincing a bar full of republicans that he was one of them is generally regarded as ludicrous. The fact that he had gone there without a nearby military backup is also close to inexplicable.
He was seized on leaving the bar and taken away by republicans. One of these, who is now in America and may face extradition proceedings, told the BBC that during the interrogation he had pretended to be a priest in an effort to extract information.
He said Captain Nairac never admitted to being a soldier, adding: “I told Nairac that he had better make a confession, because unless he told the truth he was going to be shot. He proceeded, saying ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned’.”
A variation of the Nairac legend features local Protestant suspicions that he had linked up not with loyalists but with the IRA, and had cooperated in IRA killings of Protestants.