Belfast Telegraph

Robert Nairac murder: Former British soldier turned priest appeals for return of murdered colleague's body in RTE interview

Investigator says rumour that body was put through a meat processor is a myth as colleague appeals to IRA to return body

A former undercover British soldier and colleague of murdered officer Captain Robert Nairac has appealed to the IRA to return his body.

Robert Nairac was abducted and murdered in May 1977 while working undercover in Co. Armagh.

His colleague – who has since become a priest – told tonight’s RTE Prime Time programme that he was glad that the bitterness of the Troubles was over, but that Robert Nairac’s family and friends wished for his body to be finally returned.

Asked what he wished to say to the IRA members who took Robert Nairac’s body from the murder scene at Ravensdale in Co. Louth, Fr William Burke said ‘Please may we have him back, may we have his remains for a Catholic funeral mass. For his family and his friends’.

Fr Burke travelled from England to visit the murder scene for the first time.

As an undercover officer in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, William Burke operated in west Belfast, while his fellow intelligence officer Robert Nairac operated in Co Armagh.

In his first ever interview about his work in Northern Ireland Fr Burke said he had left the British Army and became a priest as a result of Robert Nairac’s murder.

Nairac was abducted after being attacked in the car park of the Three Steps Inn in Drumintee, Co. Armagh.

At the time of his abduction he was armed but in plainclothes and was pretending to be ‘Danny from Belfast’.

He was forced into a car and driven by a gang across the border, and shot dead in a field. But by the time the murder scene was located, members of the IRA had removed his body, and there has been no trace of his remains.

In tonight’s RTE Prime Time programme, the lead investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, Geoff Knupfer, said he was convinced that Nairac’s body could be found.

He dismissed as myth, a rumour that has circulated that Robert Nairac’s body was put through a meat processor.

“It was a story put about by those personally involved. It was really about distracting attention from this area after the murder scene was found. We believe he is buried somewhere in north Co. Louth,” he said.

Mr Knupfer also described as ‘wild allegations’, stories which have previously circulated about Robert Nairac which allege his involvement in certain killings and atrocities down the years.

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The Commission for the Location of Victims Remains told RTE Prime Time it had investigated details of Robert Nairac’s military service and it had not found ‘one shred of evidence’ to support the allegations.

“We’ve tried to undertake a degree of research into his background because of these stories and really to find out if they were fact or fiction. We’ve done a lot of work on them. And we’ve not found a shred of evidence anywhere to support what are effectively wild allegations that he was involved in murder and mayhem and atrocities. He wasn’t even in the island of Ireland when some of these events took place. And on other occasions he was elsewhere.”

"It’s sad really because it’s because of that alleged reputation we just do not get any support from people who are probably in a position to help."

Geoff Knupfer said he believed false stories about Robert Nairac had led to people not coming forward with information.

The programme also heard from a brother of IRA member John Francis Green who was shot dead in a cross border attack in Co. Monaghan in 1975 that the Green family believed Robert Nairac was involved in some way in his brother's killing.

Leo Green, himself a former IRA member, said his family did not bear Robert Nairac any acrimony and that his body should be returned.

"My brother’s death was not investigated north or south. There was a minimalist investigation.

"We know in our heads and hearts what happened. We would like some acknowledgement by the British state of their role or not. That’s what we are looking for.

"Although my family have a view that Robert Nairac was involved in my brother’s death, there is no feeling of acrimony towards him. And there is no feeling of acrimony towards his family. I have described him as a victim in the same way that my brother was a victim.

"The Nairac family entitlement to truth and Robert Nairac’s entitlement to a proper burial, his sibling’s entitlement to give him that proper burial, it’s up there with all the questions that IRA members families have."

To this day there have been no searches for the body of Robert Nairac, as the Commission don’t know where in Co. Louth to excavate.

Fr William Burke said he was speaking out in support of his murdered friend, and that he would like to one day attend Robert Nairac’s funeral.

"I accept that all sides made mistakes, that includes British army as well as other side, but Robert didn’t do what he was accused of."

Tuesday night's programme was by RTE Prime Time reporter Barry Cummins.

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