The Irish News led with the story (see above) this morning alleging that redacted Ministry of Defence documents handed over to a lawyer by the London government had named the missing – presumed killed and secretly buried by the IRA – British soldier, Robert Nairac as being involved in the Miami Showband massacre of 1975.
Three members of the popular band were killed and two UVF members died when the bomb they planted on the band’s van, designed to explode later and make it seem the band was involved in smuggling explosives, detonated prematurely, allegedly because of a faulty timer.
The Irish News story, which was by-lined by Connla Young and can be read below, is allegedly based on redacted Ministry of Defence documents which were handed over to a lawyer for a widow of one of the slain band members.
If true, the story is nothing short of sensational and scandalous, except that the story fails to back up this claim by quoting any passages from the British document(s) that support the story; nor does the paper reproduce any portions of the document(s), which would be normal journalistic practice. In short no evidence was presented by the paper that the document(s) even exist or if they do that they genuinely reflect the thrust of The Irish News’ story.
So the question must be asked, why did The Irish News not follow standard journalistic practice? If the story is sound then it should be full of quotes from the document. But it is not. The Irish News needs to explain what happened. If the story is true then show us the evidence. If not, then the paper needs either to explain why no quotes from the document(s) were used or apologise to its readers for misleading them.
Thebrokenelbow.com emailed the author earlier today seeking access to the documents but late this evening Connla Young replied, saying she could not help.
This is an important issue for another reason. If The Irish News did not have evidence to support its story, such sloppiness undermines genuine efforts to discover the truth about controversial events involving British forces and discredits the journalistic profession as a whole. So the paper should produce the evidence if it has it, or explain why it ran with a story unsupported by independent facts.
Here is the text of The Irish News story:
Previously unseen British army intelligence documents have linked undercover British soldier Robert Nairac to the Miami Showband Massacre.
Three members of the band, including lead singer Fran O’Toole, died when loyalist killers stopped their minibus at a bogus UDR check point near Banbridge in Co Down in July 1975.
The attack was carried out by members the Glenanne Gang, which included RUC, UDR and UVF personnel.
Two loyalists also died when the bomb they were planting exploded prematurely.
British army documents have now linked SAS trained officer Robert Nairac to the atrocity.
While he has previously been connected to loyalist murders this is believed to be the first time MoD documents naming him have been made public.
Captain Nairac was abducted and killed by the IRA in 1977 and his body has never been found.
He is one of three people belonging to the group known as The Disappeared whose remains have yet to be located.
The Ministry of Defence papers were recently disclosed to solicitor Michael Flanigan who represents Fran O’Toole’s widow Valerie Andersen.
She is taking legal action against the MoD and PSNI chief constable.
It is understood the redacted documents contain suggestions that Captain Nairac obtained equipment and uniforms for the killers.
The file also claims that the British solider was responsible for the planning and execution of the attack.
Miami Showband massacre survivor Stephen Travers
Survivors, including justice campaigner Stephen Travers, have previously insisted a member of the killer gang spoke with an English accent.
In his 2015 book about the life of Captain Nairac, Alistair Kerr claimed the British soldier went on leave to Scotland on the same day as the Miami massacre.
Mr Travers last night said that when he learned of the document it was a “huge disappointment to me that I was right.
“It was the British army involved in the planning an execution,” he said.
It is believed many of the documents provided to Mr Flanigan have been redacted and that public interest immunity certificates have also been issued.
A hearing linked to the case is due to be heard in Belfast this morning.
Mr Flanigan last night said collusion was a feature.
“This is a case where collusion is self-evident and in those circumstances it is of concern that the defendants are seeking to rely so heavily on Public Interest immunity,” he said.
“We feel the state should be as open as possible in a case of this nature and will be asking the court to look at this issue.”