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CLOSE ENCOUNTER Prince Charles unknowingly came face to face with Captain Nairac's IRA killer during NI visit

Prince Charles was in Northern Ireland two weeks ago for a state visit and made an impromptu visit to the Slieve Gullion Forest Park

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Prince Charles is filmed by killer Liam Towson

Prince Charles is filmed by killer Liam Towson

Prince Charles is filmed by killer Liam Towson

Prince Charles came face to face with the killer of Captain Robert Nairac and never even knew.

In an exclusive picture obtained by the Sunday World, Liam Townson, the only man convicted for killing the undercover agent, was snapped taking pictures of the future king of England.

Prince Charles was in Northern Ireland two weeks ago for a state visit and made an impromptu visit to the Slieve Gullion Forest Park on May 19.

As he posed for pictures, little did he know he was being videoed and pictured by the killer of a man who was once in his regiment, who was tortured and killed by the IRA.

When questioned by the Sunday World, Townson said: “I wasn’t with Prince Charles, I was just at my place of work. What are you going to do with this? Actually, I don’t care.”

Townson, who was released in 1990 after serving 12 years, works as a groundsman at the Co. Armagh tourist spot.

In a high-vis jacket, Townson is seen yards from the future king, taking a picture on his mobile phone.

Prince Charles and wife Camilla visited the beauty spot as part of a two-day tour of Northern Ireland last week.

As Commander-In-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, Prince Charles is always going to be a controversial figure in Northern Ireland but the fact he came into close contact with the only man convicted in connection with the abduction and murder of Captain Nairac will raise eyebrows.

The Nairac murder is one of the most notorious of the Troubles. Countless myths have sprung up around his disappearance in 1977 and he remains one of the ‘disappeared’ whose remains have not been recovered.

Regarded by many as a loose cannon, he tried to infiltrate the IRA until he was rumbled.

On the evening of May 14, 1977, Captain Nairac drove to The Three Steps pub in Dromintee, south Armagh. He is said to have told regulars of the pub that he was Danny McErlaine, a motor mechanic and member of the Official IRA from Ardoyne in north Belfast.

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According to witnesses, Nairac got up and sang a republican folk song The Broad Black Brimmer with the band who were playing that night.

At around 11.45pm, he was abducted following a struggle in the pub’s car park and taken across the border to a field in the Ravensdale Woods in Co. Louth.

Following a violent interrogation during which Nairac was punched, kicked, pistol-whipped and hit with a wooden post, he was shot dead.

One of his abductors posed as a priest in order to try to elicit information by way of confession but it is understood his last words were: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

His disappearance sparked a large scale search across the island and after four days the gardaí informed the RUC they believed he was dead.

He remains one of three of the Disappeared, people abducted and killed by the IRA.

The Sunday World contacted Buckingham Palace over Prince Charles’ close encounter with an IRA killer.

A spokesperson said: “Liam Townson was not part of the ‘Royal Rota’, the media pack, in operation at Slieve Gullion. As you may be aware, the park was open to the public on the day of the royal visit.”

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