Showband massacre survivor’s doubts over memorial calls

EXCLUSIVE

The band fell victim to a bombing in 1975

A SURVIVOR of a notorious massacre during the Troubles has raised concerns over demands to honour a murdered undercover soldier whose name has been linked to Northern Ireland’s so-called “dirty war”.

Stephen Travers, a musician in the popular 1970s group the Miami Showband and now campaigner for peace and reconciliation, said it was not for him to oppose calls to mark the life of Captain Robert Nairac.

READ MORE: Stuart Cosgrove: Netflix’s brave probe into Troubles exposes failings of UK broadcasters

However, he believed a better course of action would be to examine the issue of alleged collusion between the loyalist terror group the Ulster Volunteer Force and the British Army and military intelligence, and allegations Nairac had been involved in such activities.

“Your heroes are people you put on a pedestal and they reflect your character. It’s not up to me to dictate to the British who they should have as heroes.

The Miami Showband

The National:
“But I think they should carefully look at those they are going to honour. My message to the British Government is to be careful who you put on a pedestal as they reflect who you are,” said Travers, who lives in Cork in the Republic of Ireland.

“It is a mistake, though, to concentrate on one person when looking at the atrocities carried out in Northern Ireland. The real culprits are the state and the methods they used.”

He added: “A lot of things were done in the name of the British people that they don’t know about and as we’ve seen in the Brexit debate there is an abject ignorance about Irish history and the conflict.”

Travers was critically injured when the Miami Showband was targeted in a bombing and shooting attack in the early hours of July 31, 1975. Three of his bandmates died.

The former bassist of the band spoke to the Sunday National after two Tory MPs called in the Commons last Wednesday for Nairac to be remembered.

The showband had been playing a gig in Banbridge in County Down, north of the border, and were returning to their home in Dublin when the attack took place.

As was commonplace in those days their van was waved down by what seemed like a routine checkpoint set up by the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), an auxiliary force made up of local recruits formed to support the British Army’s work during the Troubles.

But in the course of the “checkpoint” search, a bomb was planted in their van which exploded prematurely.

Lead singer Fran O’Toole, and band members Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty, were killed. O’Toole was shot 22 times at close range.

Miraculously, Travers and band leader Des Lee managed to survive. Lee found a hiding spot in the blazing hedge and Travers played dead.

Two of the soldiers who carried out the attack – both members of the UDR and the UVF – were also killed in the bomb blast. Three more members of the UVF gang, also members of the UDR, were later convicted and jailed.

The National:
A Netflix documentary broadcast for the first time in March, revisited the atrocity, with the help of Travers. It pointed the finger at the UK, arguing that its intelligence service was behind the murders.

Rather than a random sectarian attack, it has long been suggested that notorious loyalist killer Robin “The Jackal” Jackson masterminded the massacre.

Robin “The Jackal” Jackson masterminded the massacre

Years later, the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team confirmed Jackson had been a “special agent” for the RUC.

It has also been suggested Nairac played a role in the Miami Showband killings. Travers said there was a British Army officer at the scene, who had a “posh English” accent, but he has never been able to say whether it was Nairac or not.

Robert Nairac was in the shadowy 14 Intelligence Company, but despite being accused of collusion with loyalist terrorists, he was never found guilty.

He was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the IRA in 1977. Two years later he was posthumously awarded the George Cross for heroism.

It was claimed in the Netflix documentary that Nairac was deployed in Northern Ireland to work with loyalist terror groups to help fight the IRA.

According to these claims the British Army wanted to strengthen infrastructure on the border as they believed IRA gangs were fleeing into the Republic after launching attacks in Northern Ireland.

It is claimed the UDR/UVF gang were used by the intelligence authorities to try and frame the Miami Showband members to look as if they were carrying bombs across the border in a bid to strengthen the political case for a harder border.

The plan was that the bomb would go off in the van as they travelled to Dublin, making the band members look as if they were IRA members smuggling bombs.

However, the operation was botched and the bomb – planted by the gang – went off prematurely.

Last week in the House of Commons two Tory MPs, one of whom had served under Nairac in the Grenadier Guards, asked Speaker John Bercow what could be done to mark his service and death.

In a point of order Sir Mike Penning said: “42 years ago in the early hours of that morning, a brave British soldier who was from 3 Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was abducted by the IRA.

“Captain Robert Nairac was my captain, a gentleman that in the boxing ring broke my nose, the first person to have done so.

“We still do not know what happened to him. This country owes a great debt to our soldiers in Northern Ireland, and particularly those who have given the utmost for their country.

“Mr Speaker do you think there is any way that I can mark 42 years of Captain Robert Nairac giving his life for this country and for the peace of Northern Ireland?”

His words were echoed by Tory MP and former army officer Bob Stewart, who said Nairac had received a George Cross posthumously, after being “tortured heinously” by the IRA.

Robert Nairac in British Army uniform patrolling on the streets of the North of Ireland

Travers said: “I have never been able to identify the British officer I saw. People have showed me pictures and asked if this was the man, but I have never been able to say one way or the other.

“I have no view on Robert Nairac, but even if it was proved that it was him he would only have been the one taking orders.”

He called for UK Government intelligence files on the Troubles to be opened in the interest of transparency, accountability and reconciliation.

“This isn’t about vengeance. It’s about the benefit of the British people. We think people who were involved in such atrocities and who carried them out in their name should be held to account.

They should open the files into the whole era and face up to the truth about what happened. If the UK Government has nothing to hide, then why is it hiding something?”

With many thanks to: The National Scot and Kathleen Nutt for the Exclusive original story@kacnutt