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Kingsmill witness accused of up story about Robert Nairac’s presence at massacre

By Victoria Leonard

One of the first people on the scene after the Kingsmill massacre has been accused of "sexing up" evidence suggesting that Captain Robert Nairac played a part in the 1976 atrocity.

Gerald Byrne, who had been travelling in a vehicle with his brother-in-law Charlie Hughes when they came across the bodies, gave three separate statements in January 1976, July 2015 and June 2016.

At yesterday's inquest into the atrocity in which 10 Protestant workmen lost their lives after their minibus was attacked by the IRA, the court heard evidence from the three written statements made by Mr Byrne, who said he suffered post traumatic stress disorder after the incident and required counselling.

He initially believed they had come upon a road traffic collision, but when he realised there were human bodies on the road "the hairs on my neck stood up at the shock of what was in front of me".

"We walked up to what we thought was an animal, it was by the red van," recalled Mr Byrne, who was a 26-year-old student at Jordanstown at the time.

"Then I was aware it was human bodies lying on the road. There were 10. Joe Lemmon will haunt me for the rest of my life; he was lying on top of a pile with his head opened.

"The sight of Kingsmill has never and will never leave me.

"The smell of the scene was indescribable - it was the smell of death. The blood was running down the road."

During questioning by Fiona Doherty QC, acting on behalf of the family of John McConville, Mr Byrne said he had visited the house of the sole survivor Alan Black on May 31, 2013.

He said this was because his partner had told him that her late ex-husband, who had served in the armed forces, had informed her that "Bob Nairac was at Kingsmill".

Mr Byrne denied telling Mr Black during this meeting that his partner recalled coming home to find Captain Nairac "bouncing a child on his knee" and discussing the Kingsmill murders.

Grenadier Guardsman Nairac was abducted and murdered by the IRA in May 1977, and was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

Mr Byrne claimed that a previous written statement he had given to the Justice for Innocent Victims of Terrorism Ltd (JIVT) group, in which he said he had been told by his partner that Robert Nairac stopped the Kingsmill minibus, was wrong, and that she had only told him that Nairac "was present".

Ms Doherty pointed out that Mr Byrne had provided three different versions of Captain Nairac's alleged involvement at Kingsmill, as well as other inconsistencies in his statements throughout the years, and asked why Mr Byrne's partner had not provided a statement or appeared at the inquest.

"She said she didn't want to get involved in the dirty little war," he replied.

"She could only relate what was told to her by her ex-spouse, who was a member of the forces."

Mr Byrne said he was also unable to find a photo that allegedly showed Captain Nairac.

Ms Doherty told Mr Byrne that his statement was the only suggestion that Captain Nairac had any involvement in Kingsmill, and suggested he had "spun a yarn".

Mr Byrne subsequently revealed that he had been contacted by a survivor of the Miami Showband massacre, with whom he had discussed "British Army involvement" in that incident.

Alan Kane QC, acting for some of the Kingsmill families, suggested to Mr Byrne that he had "made up this story" about Captain Nairac's alleged involvement in Kingsmill.

He said that he had "very cynically and cruelly sought to bring the name of Captain Nairac before Mr Black and all the other relatives" to serve someone else's purpose.

Peter Coll QC, acting for the Ministry of Defence and the police, said that the MoD's evidence would be that Captain Nairac was "not in Northern Ireland at the time of Kingsmill", and told Mr Byrne that he was "sexing this up".

When asked about his attitude to the police and the British Army, Mr Byrne said: "My attitude is they have been involved in an awful lot of things here over the period of the conflict.

"I was subjected to abuse on many occasions for no particular reason - physical and sectarian."

Mr Byrne admitted he would be "very sceptical of providing any information to the police" and said he "didn't think these proceedings will ever be allowed to get to the bottom" of what happened.

Mr Coll said that Mr Byrne was "creating a seam of disinformation to push the focus away from IRA involvement to British military involvement in this terrible atrocity".

Mr Byrne replied that he was "merely relating what I have been told".

Coroner Brian Sherrard told the inquest that suggestions of Captain Nairac's involvement were "part of the folklore that has unfortunately attached to south Armagh during this period".

At the end of yesterday's hearing, victims' campaigner Willie Frazer said he believed that the "myth of Captain Nairac's involvement in Kingsmill had been debunked".

"Captain Nairac wasn't involved with the IRA, he was fighting them," he stated. "The myth about his involvement has been completely rubbished. This inquest has raised a lot of questions, and at the end we will need a full independent inquiry."

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