Long-running inquest into Kingsmill massacre 'painful and frustrating process' for victims’ families

The bullet-riddled minibus near Whitecross in South Armagh where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by IRA terrorists. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A long-running inquest into the Troubles deaths of 10 Protestant workmen murdered by the IRA at Kingsmill in 1976 has been a “painful and frustrating process” for the victims’ families, the hearing was told.

Final submissions were made in the proceedings in Dungannon Courthouse on Friday, a decade after the hearing was ordered by the then attorney general and seven years after it began hearing evidence.

A barrister for some of the families said there was anxiety among them that there should be no further drift before the inquest findings are delivered.

The 10 men were ordered out of a minibus as they returned from work and were shot on January 5 1976 in Co Armagh, an atrocity attributed to the Provisional IRA.

No-one has ever been convicted.

Coroner Brian Sherrard said there had been a lack of any assistance in the proceedings by those purporting to represent the IRA or by the “wider political republican movement” and said this may be “telling” concerning the conclusions he reaches.

Fiona Doherty KC, representing some families, said the sisters of one of the victims, John McConville, and Alan Black, the only survivor from the massacre, were in court.

She said: “This inquest has been a long, painful and frustrating process for them and their families.

“To this date it has been 10 years since the attorney (general) issued his direction.

“The court will appreciate the anxiety and frustration the time taken to complete this inquest has caused and the court will be keen and anxious to ensure from this point onwards there is no drift in the conclusion of the proceedings.”

Ms Doherty said Mr McConville was a “committed and active Christian” who had taken a job at Compton’s Mill in Glenanne in Co Armagh to pay for his fees for Bible college.

She said he was travelling home from work with his colleagues in a minibus when they were stopped, ordered from the minibus and shot.

Alan Black, the sole survivor of a sectarian massacre of 10 Protestant workmen in 1976 near the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill Credit: Niall Carson/PA

Ms Doherty then read out the names of the 10 men who were killed.

She said: “One man, Richard Hughes, was singled out of the group and spared, apparently on the basis solely of his religion, he was a Catholic.

“One of the number who were shot, Alan Black, survived, despite having sustained 18 gunshot wounds.

“The men were shot by members of the South Armagh brigade of the Irish Republican Army.

“Intelligence indicates that the unit or units involved were members of the second battalion IRA, based in Crossmaglen, assisted by members of the North Louth unit of the IRA.

“The motive for the attack was sectarian.”

Ms Doherty said pathology evidence suggested the men were lined up against the vehicle and shot from behind before being shot again while they were on the ground.

The barrister said the original RUC investigation was a matter of “acute concern” to the victims’ families.

Karen Armstrong holds a photograph of her brother John McConville Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

She said that a palm print recovered from the getaway van in 1976 used by the killers was not matched to a suspect until days after the inquest opened in 2016.

A new police investigation was then launched, leading to the coronial proceedings being halted, but no prosecution was brought.

Ms Doherty said: “This saga has been a source of much distress and concern.

“In the circumstances of this case where 10 murders and one attempted murder took place, the errors in this aspect of the investigation are shocking.”

She said it was not a tenable position that the coroner could deliver his findings without commenting on the adequacy of the police investigation.

Representing the police, Peter Coll KC said: “These killings could have no justification and indeed no defensible basis could ever be found.

“What occurred was large scale, intimately planned, criminal enterprise of mass murder.

“It was driven by what would appear to be a clear and chilling sectarian hatred.”

However, he argued that it was not the coroner’s role to comment on the adequacy of the RUC investigation, stating that there were other statutory agencies for that purpose.

Coroner Mr Sherrard said through the proceedings there had been an “absence of any assistance from those purporting to represent the IRA or indeed the wider political republican movement concerning this matter”.

He added: “Inevitably there were many people involved in this attack, both before, during and after.

“The absence of any commentary from them or any evidence may very well be telling concerning my own conclusions as to what has occurred.

“This has been a very long road for everyone who has been concerned in it.”

The coroner said he would deliver his findings at a later date.

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