A leading clergyman has made a new plea for information to trace the remains of an undercover Sunderland soldier murdered by the IRA.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said churchmen would be willing to listen to anyone who can end the mystery over the whereabouts of the terrorist organisation's "disappeared" victims.
They include SAS-trained Robert Nairac, who was raised in Thornhill Gardens, Ashbrooke, and who was brutally murdered by the Provisional IRA 40 years ago next month.
Grenadier Guardsman Captain Nairac was kidnapped from a republican pub near the Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border just before midnight on May 14, 1977, before he was tortured and executed.
Although bloodstains, hair and teeth belonging to him were later found, his body has still to be discovered amid disputed rumours that it may have been fed to a mincing machine.
Archbishop Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh, said at a Holy Week service in memory of those who disappeared during the Troubles: “There must be so many people walking around today who know in their hearts that the information that they have locked down inside them is capable of unlocking the uncertainty and grief of families.”
The hunt has been led by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains, established to obtain information in strictest confidence, with Capt Nairac one of four casualties whose bodies have still to be found.
Archbishop Martin continued: “For our part, we need to find a mechanism of truth and information retrieval which will allow more of these people to come forward so that many more families can be set free from the agony of waiting and wondering, ‘why?’
“Even in the absence of a formal mechanism, I am confident that there are trustworthy people in society and in the churches who would be willing, and could be empowered and enabled, to accept and sensitively share information in this regard.”
Speaking at a service at Armagh Cathedral, Archbishop Martin added: “There are people on all sides who carry secrets – memories of their own involvement in the deaths and injury of thousands of men, women and children.
“In some cases they pulled the trigger, planted the bomb, blindly followed orders or gave the command for death or punishment.
“In other cases they willingly drove a car, kept watch, spread fear, collected money or information, sheltered combatants, colluded or covered up, destroyed evidence or intimidated witnesses. These were awful, terrible times.”
Six people were eventually convicted of the kidnap and murder of Capt Nairac, who was awarded the George Cross for his bravery during his final struggle, although they did not disclose what happened to his body.
One admitted that the 28-year-old officer, who was abducted from The Three Steps pub, in Dromintee, South Armagh, after a night singing and drinking with locals, did not reveal anything during his torture.
Born in Mauritius, Capt Nairac's family lived in Sunderland for around 20 years until the late 1960s while his father, Maurice, was working as an ophthalmic surgeon at Sunderland Eye Infirmary.