Belfast Telegraph

Army 'stopped from patrolling' on day of Kingsmill massacre, victim's mother told

By Staff Reporter

A mother whose son died in the Kingsmill massacre was told by an Army officer that the military was ordered not to go on patrol on the day of the killings, an inquest has heard.

Esther McConville, whose son John was one of 10 Protestant workmen gunned down in Co Armagh 41 years ago, received the information a few years after his death from an officer at Bessbrook barracks, where she worked in the kitchen, a lawyer for the family said.

However, a former soldier who was based at Bessbrook at the time of the atrocity strenuously denied the claim at Belfast Coroner's Court.

The court also heard that the first person to come across the scene of the massacre has never been interviewed by police.

Charles Hughes was taking building supplies to Crossmaglen with his brother-in-law when he saw the victims' stationary red van at around 5.30pm on January 5, 1976. In a statement to the court Mr Hughes, who was excused from giving evidence in person due to ill health, said he originally thought there had been an accident.

"It (the van) was surrounded by dead bodies. There was no noise at all. Gerry (his brother-in-law) drove to the first farmhouse... to phone for the emergency services. I was alone with the bodies for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably only 15 minutes."

They stayed at the scene until 8.30pm to assist. Before he left he gave his details to police expecting to be contacted to give a statement.

However, he added that "each time an arrangement was made to give a statement (police) never turned up".

The men were shot dead after the IRA stopped their van and instructed the sole Catholic among them to leave the scene.

A lawyer for the victims' families raised claims on Tuesday from the McConville family that the Army was told not to go on patrol on the day of the attack.

However, giving evidence from behind a screen, a former officer with the 1st Battalion Royal Scots, who was in charge of military operations in South Armagh in 1976, insisted: "I can categorically say this is not the case."

Referred to as MOD2, he added: "It makes no sense. Perhaps the information was misunderstood. The Army did not tolerate no-go areas."

He said that prior to the massacre there had been a build-up of tit-for-tat killings.

"It was a very intense period. We deployed as many soldiers as we could on the ground based on intellectual evidence as to where attacks might occur... I am not aware of any areas out of bounds."

The inquest was told that the MoD will next week address questions over the whereabouts of Captain Robert Nairac at the time. There had been speculation that the undercover Army officer - who was murdered by the IRA in 1977 - was involved in the atrocity.

MOD2 said that prior to attending the inquest he checked with the intelligence officer at the time if Captain Nairac had been in Northern Ireland in January 1976. "He was not in the province at that time. He did not come until May or June (1976)," he said.

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