A coroner is to ask the Government to reveal if it sent letters of comfort to suspects in a notorious IRA massacre of 10 Protestant workmen.
John Leckey is requesting the information after a bereaved relative raised concerns that potentially six individuals suspected of involvement in the Kingsmills killings in 1976 have been issued with papers assuring them they were not wanted by the authorities.
Mr Leckey said he would write to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers seeking her comment on claims from a mother of one of the victims that suspects may have been included in the administrative scheme to deal with on-the-run (OTR) republicans.
"I would like a substantive response sooner rather than later," Mr Leckey told a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast.
The move came after a lawyer for Beatrice Worton, whose son Kenneth was killed, criticised PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott for refusing to disclose whether Kingsmills suspects were processed through the OTR scheme.
The process, set up in the early 2000s as part of a peace process deal between the Government and Sinn Fein, enabled fugitives to establish whether police in the UK were actively seeking them. Around 190 republicans were subsequently sent letters of comfort.
Mr Leckey is presiding over a new inquest into the shootings at Kingsmills, which was ordered by Attorney General John Larkin last year after a long campaign by bereaved relatives.
Ten textile workers were shot by the side of a road near the Co Armagh village after a gang of masked gunmen flagged down their minibus.
No one has ever been convicted of the murders.
The 10 men who died were John Bryans; Robert Chambers; Reginald Chapman; Walter Chapman; Robert Freeburn; Joseph Lemmon; John McConville; James McWhirter; Robert Samuel Walker, and Mr Worton.
At the preliminary hearing in Belfast's Coroner's Court, a lawyer representing Mr Worton's mother said she harboured grave concerns that some of those suspected of killing her son had received letters of comfort.
Barrister Neil Rafferty said a number of the findings of a cold case review undertaken by the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) three years ago had become more troubling when considered in the context of the recent OTR revelations.
The HET findings he referred to included:
- That seven suspects were identified by police in the wake of the shootings, but their efforts to arrest and question them were frustrated by the fact they resided across the border in the Republic.
- In 2002, one of the suspects was stopped by authorities travelling through Heathrow Airport, but was allowed to proceed.
- That of the seven suspects, only one was still being sought in connection with the shootings at the time of the HET review.
Mr Rafferty told Mr Leckey: "That raises very, very grave concerns on the part of Mrs Worton that some of these suspects may well be in receipt of comfort letters."
The Crown Solicitor's Office replied to Mrs Worton's request stating that it would "not be appropriate" for Mr Baggott to comment when the judicial probe ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron was ongoing.