A new book on the notorious murder of Robert Nairac accuses Colonel Clive Fairweather – an officer in the SAS in the 1970s – of being slow to act following the abduction of the undercover soldier.
Nairac, who was serving with the Grenadier Guards, was abducted from a bar in south Armagh in 1977 and murdered by the IRA. His body has never been found.
The book by Edinburgh-born former diplomat Alistair Kerr accuses Fairweather, who died in 2012, of being an alcoholic who made mistakes in the hours after Nairac’s disappearance.
In Betrayal: The Murder of Robert Nairac, Kerr claims the 29-year-old soldier had been “betrayed” by “certain elements” in the army even before the events that lead up to his death.
Nairac, an SAS-trained officer, was shot dead in County Louth, Ireland, in the early hours of 15 May, 1977, after being abducted north of the border hours earlier.
He had gone to The Three Steps pub near Jonesborough, in south Armagh, in an attempt to gather intelligence on the IRA.
Kerr’s book claims Nairac should have returned to base at 11.30pm, but Fairweather did not receive the message about his failure to show until around an hour later. Kerr claims Fairweather “by his own admission, had a drink problem” and had “probably quite a lot” of alcohol on the night of Nairac’s disappearance.
The book claims that Fairweather chose not to raise the alarm immediately because it would have involved getting senior officers out of their beds.
The cumulative delays, while “reasonable or understandable”, were to prove “fatal to Nairac”. While Fairweather agreed to send out a helicopter at 1am, Kerr maintains that it was not until 5.43am – “about six hours too late” – that Fairweather alerted HQ.
Kerr claims that when Fairweather began to get concerned about Nairac’s disappearance, he went into “damage limitation mode”.
“Although Nairac was still alive at this point, rescuing him was not a high priority: Fairweather had a career to salvage.”
Fairweather was a member of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers who completed three tours with the SAS. He was second-in-command of the SAS at the Iranian embassy siege in London in 1980 and Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland from 1994 to 2002.
Stuart Crawford, a former army officer who became friends with Fairweather after he had left the army, criticised the book’s portrayal: “He was the most diligent and compassionate of men, despite the tough SAS-type exterior,” he said.
“I know he liked a drink because many a bottle of wine was shared, but I wouldn’t ever describe him as an alcoholic.”
He added: “Hindsight is 20-20, as they always say. His decision to delay doing anything in case Nairac turned up would not have been a foolhardy decision. It would be one that would be taken in a very measured way.”
Nairac’s name was added to the list of the so-called Disappeared – people who were abducted and murdered by republicans during the Troubles – in the 2000s.
A number of men have been convicted of involvement in Nairac’s murder, although his body has never been found.