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Evidence taken from Kingsmill massacre was destroyed or not tested properly, inquest is told

By Cate McCurry

There was a "significant loss" of evidential opportunity after items recovered at the Kingsmill scene were either destroyed or not correctly tested, an inquest has heard.

Forensic expert Dr Ruth Griffin outlined the items that were found at the scene of the massacre, and at the suspected getaway car which was later forensically tested in the weeks and months following the 1976 atrocity.

At yesterday's sitting of the inquest into the gun attack in which 10 Protestant workmen were killed after their minibus was ambushed by the IRA, the court heard evidence from the forensic scientist who reviewed the case in May 2007.

Dr Griffin, who is now retired, was not involved in the original forensic investigations having joined later, in the 1980s.

The court heard that some of the items that were taken from the scene to be transferred to the forensics laboratory included live and spent bullet cartridges, soil, broken glass and swabs that were taken from the van that is believed to be the getaway vehicle.

She also discussed a palm print that was found at the scene. She said that a quantity of DNA was recovered from the print, but that there was no profile due to the quality of the DNA found.

During questioning by Alan Kane QC, acting for some of the Kingsmill families, he queried the testing of the live bullets at the time.

Dr Griffin told the court that the forensic notes from the time show the live bullets were sent straight to firearms examinations.

Mr Kane put it to the expert witness that this "potential evidential opportunity" was lost because the ammunition was not tested for fingerprints first.

The court also heard that a total of 31 swabs were taken from inside the suspected getaway van, discovered near Dundalk. Most of the swabs were taken from the front of the van while the rest were taken from two rear seats.

Mr Kane suggested that a "huge volume" of area in the van had not been swabbed.

"There were no swabs of areas were the gunmen would have sat," he said.

"This represents a significant loss of evidential opportunity."

Dr Griffin, however, stated that concentrated areas would have been identified and agreed by forensic experts at the time.

Mr Kane also pointed out that forensic results were not made available for eight months after the atrocity, which is twice the expected timeframe.

Dr Griffin stated that, at the time, the forensics unit was "overloaded" and that timescales were not always met.

She said that priority samples and evidence was examined and that any additional evidence would be later discussed.

It also emerged that hairs recovered at a previous horrific sectarian massacre are to be tested to establish whether they are connected to the scene of the Kingsmill atrocity.

The two strands of hair that were found at Tullyvallen Orange Hall, in which five men were killed in a brutal IRA gun attack in September 1975, will be examined to see if there is a link to the Kingsmill suspects.

During the Historical Enquiries Team investigations into Kingsmill, it was discovered that a number of exhibits tested at the time no longer exist after they were destroyed in a fire, and that there were no records or results kept of the items that were destroyed.

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