Belfast Telegraph

Hearing delay 'a bid to bury truth'

Relatives of a Protestant workman in Northern Ireland gunned down in a sectarian IRA attack almost 40 years ago have accused the authorities of attempting to bury the truth.

Ten textile workers were shot dead by the side of a road near the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976 - the height of the conflict - after a gang of masked gunmen flagged down the minibus they were travelling home from work in.

The chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is addressing major funding cuts and proposed prioritising keeping people safe today over addressing the legacy of the past. Many historical inquests into conflict deaths which rely on security force information could be affected, including those concerning Kingsmill.

Relatives of one of the Kingsmill victims, John McConville, said: "As we know from many current issues, future generations will be fully justified in criticising their forebears for having attempted to bury the truth, no matter how toxic or uncomfortable the truth might be."

They have written to Stormont's justice minister David Ford, senior coroner John Leckey and the PSNI rejecting financial reasons for delay.

Funds dedicated to investigating the past could be reduced as a consequence of implementing potential budget cuts of £88 million, chief constable George Hamilton has said.

He argued his priority was keeping the public safe now.

Inquests into more than 70 killings during the Troubles have still to be concluded, owing to delays that are causing anger among relatives of the dead and raising concerns about the ability of coroners' courts to cope with the conflict's legacy.

Records show the Kingsmill killers asked all occupants of the vehicle what religion they were. The only Catholic worker was ordered away from the scene and the 11 remaining workmates shot. One survived, despite being shot 18 times.

Injured Alan Black is a key witness and is approaching his 71st birthday.

The McConville family statement said: "Surviving such an atrocity and being told that the delay is down to money is, in his own words, just not acceptable and causes further trauma for all concerned.

"Politicians cannot stand on the sidelines on this funding matter and we call for all those who oppose historic injustice to put pressure on minister Ford to provide the necessary immediate funding and allow a date to be set for a full substantial hearing into the murder of our brother, his colleagues and the attempted murder of Mr Black."

Today relatives attended the third preliminary hearing of the inquest at Belfast's coroner's court. No date has been fixed for a full hearing and family members said the delay was re-traumatising them.

"Unfortunately our conclusion leads us to believe that the delay is an intentional inbuilt strategy to conveniently allow us all to lose interest and just slowly disappear off the scene.

"But we will not lose interest or just conveniently disappear, no matter how inconvenient that is."

No-one has been convicted of the murders.

McConville family solicitor Kevin Winters said: "The letter couldn't be any more timely - coming as it does within days of the chief constable saying resources are limited.

"The recent rulings on delayed inquests have not impacted at all in terms of increasing speed and resourcing of inquests.

"This particular case is unique because we have a key eye witness to the killings and yet little or no prospect of a pending hearing.

"This family and many others who find themselves in the same position are left increasingly distressed."

The PSNI dedicates significant resources to investigating historic Troubles killings using a team of independent detectives and to meeting its obligations to provide information to other legacy investigations, such as those undertaken by the at times overstretched coroner's service.

The work of the Historical Enquiries Team, established to review more than 3,000 Troubles killings, has been held up following a critical report.

Efforts brokered by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass to reach a compromise between members of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government on dealing with the past ended without agreement at the end of last year.

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