South Armagh man Kevin Crilly has been cleared of any involvement in the execution of British soldier and spy Robert Nairac in May 1977.
Mr Crilly walked free from Belfast Crown Court this week after being found not guilty.
Described by his supporters as a “show trial” for one of the IRA’s most high-profile killings, the case against Crilly was always extremely weak.
In 1977, Captain Nairac was an ‘elite’ British Army intelligence officer who, without back-up, attempted to infiltrate the IRA by posing as a republican sympathiser in a South Armagh bar.
He told republicans in the Three Steps Inn in Dromintee that he was Danny, a comrade from Belfast. In a night of carousing, the Oxford-educated Grenadier Guardsman took to the stage and sought to convince local republicans of his credentials with repeated renditions of the rebel ballad ‘The Broad Black Brimmer’.
Quickly identified as a spy, Nairac was executed that night by the IRA. His body has never been found.
Mr Crilly, when asked about the killing by BBC journalists in 2007, admitted being present in the bar when the incident took place. The secretly recorded BBC ‘interview’ formed the main body of evidence against him.
The judge, sitting without a jury, accepted that Crilly’s answers on the taped interview “only mean what he witnessed was the abduction of Captain Nairac but it does not prove his active participation in it.”
The prosecution also failed to link the South Armagh man to the vehicle alleged to have been used by the IRA unit, Justice McLaughlin ruled. The judge also queried the evidence of an RUC policeman who said he questioned Mr Crilly at his house after the incident but did not consider him a suspect.
The judge cleared Mr Crilly of allcharges, including kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Robert Nairac was considered one of the most experience British operatives to have served in the North of Ireland.
In recent years, evidence has emerged that the undercover operative had been providing information that British military intelligence used to assist loyalist death squads in carrying out a string of political murders in the south Armagh area.
There were also allegations of his involvement in the loyalist bombings of Dublin and Monaghan in 1974 and in the murders of members of the Miami Showband in 1975.
With a high-flying military record with the British Army, no convincing explanation has ever emerged for Nairac’s near-suicidal actions at the Three Steps Inn.