Kingsmills inquest: Nairac arrived in Armagh ‘five months after massacre’

The officer at Bessbrook Army base in January 1976 told the inquest Capt Robert Nairac was not posted to there until five months after Kingsmills
The officer at Bessbrook Army base in January 1976 told the inquest Capt Robert Nairac was not posted to there until five months after Kingsmills
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An officer who played a central role in south Armagh Army operations at the time of the Kingsmills massacre says that Captain Robert Nairac had not been in the area until five months after the atrocity.

The captain was speaking at the inquest in Belfast into the massacre.

Ten Protestant workmen were gunned down by the IRA as they returned home from work at Kingsmills in south Armagh on January 5, 1976.

Inquest questions have repeatedly linked Kingsmills to the enigmatic Capt Nairac, who was murdered in south Armagh on May 14, 1977.

Sole Kingsmills survivor Alan Black said the leader of the gunmen spoke with an English accent, leading to speculation that it could have been Nairac, who sometimes operated in an undercover role.

However, Mr Black discounts the idea, saying the Kingsmills leader was of squat build while Nairac was built “like an athlete”.

Yesterday MoD Witness 2, who was operations officer of the 1st Battalion the Royal Scots at Bessbrook Army base in January 1976, strongly rejected suggestions that Nairac was in the area, having recently checked with his Battalion Intelligence officer from 1976.

“He said that Nairac could not have been involved in this incident; that he was not even in Northern Ireland at this stage,” he said.

Nairac did not arrive at Bessbrook until at least five or six months later, he said.

Coroner Brian Sherrard said: “I find it of value that someone of his rank and station feels he would have been introduced to Mr Nairac if he had been working the this area.”

However, he welcomed further clarity to be given by another MoD witness.

Information was also read from the late Esther McConville, whose son John was one of those murdered.

She said that when working in the officer’s mess at Bessbrook Mill in 1978/9, a commanding officer had told her that all soldiers had been ordered to remain in barracks on the day of the massacre.

But MoD 2 said: “I can categorically state that this was not the case.”

He said the maximum number of soldiers were on the ground due to escalating sectarian attacks; three Catholics were killed at a Silverbridge bar attack the month before Kingsmills and a pub in Camlough had been bombed only days beforehand. There was a build up to “the Reavey incident” at Whitecross the night before Kingsmills, he said, when three Catholic brothers were fatally shot by loyalists.

Major Ron Brotheron of the Royal Scots said the Reavey murders were bound to raise tensions further.

“The Catholic family [Reaveys] were known by the security forces to be republican sympathisers,” he said.

“Reprisals were to be expected.”

He led a covert watch on the wake, noting “sympathisers from the Republic and south Armagh were expected to attend”.