Hope for victims' relatives as Kingsmills palm print is identified after 40 years
Revelation stuns families as inquest into massacre given details of dramatic development
Forty years after 10 Protestant workmen were murdered by the IRA at Kingsmills, the PSNI has announced it has a solid lead to investigate.
No one has been convicted of the killings, which took place in rural south Armagh near Bessbrook on January 5, 1976.
But now a palm print taken from a dark green minibus believed to be the getaway vehicle used by the gunmen has been identified, the inquest into the atrocity heard yesterday.
The victims' families were told privately of the information before it was disclosed to the public in court.
Neil Rafferty, barrister for several of the families, told the inquest they were "stunned into silence" by the revelation.
Counsel for the PSNI, Peter Coll QC, told Coroner Brian Sherrard that the palm print was matched last week.
"As a result of further examination, last week an identification was made," Mr Coll said, adding that a senior investigating officer had been appointed by the PSNI to reopen the investigation.
Mr Sherrard reacted by telling the inquest the news was "potentially a significant development".
He also asked Mr Coll if there was any indication of how long the investigation might take.
The coroner added that he planned to keep an open mind about how the inquest would now proceed.
Yesterday's session also heard from a number of eyewitnesses who came across the scene of the atrocity.
It was additionally given a statement from the man the getaway vehicle was stolen from.
The testimony made by digger driver Michael Morgan, who worked for the Newry-based building contractor HG Campbell, was read to the hearing.
He had been clearing a site at Ballymascanlon near Dundalk in the Irish Republic on the day of the massacre when a masked gunman ordered him to hand over the keys to the dark green minibus.
"I felt something at my back and a male voice said, 'I want that van,' and I said, 'It's for you'," he said in a statement that was originally given in 1976.
Another statement taken from Mr Morgan's colleague, Thomas Caldwell, reported seeing the minibus driving along Merchant Quay in Newry at around 3.15pm that afternoon.
The inquest is scheduled to resume tomorrow, when it will hear information from the PSNI about how long the new criminal investigation could take and whether the inquest can continue while it is ongoing.
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was among the victims of the massacre, welcomed the development but admitted his first reaction was anger as to why it had taken so long.
Speaking outside court, he said he and the other families had pressed police at the time and also pressed the Historical Enquiries Team during a review.
He additionally claimed that they were led to believe the print could not be identified.
"We have known about this palm print for 40 years, so why only now has it been matched?" Mr Worton asked.
Sole survivor of Kingsmills, Alan Black, also queried why the palm print had taken so long to be identified. "It's nearly unbelievable that after all this time, and us now into the inquest, suddenly they have found a match for it," he said.
"Shocking, absolutely shocking, but this is what we came here for, this is why we are here."
May Quinn, whose brother Robert Walker was one of those murdered, said the most important thing was that the gunmen were "named and shamed".
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the investigation would be carried out "as expeditiously as possible".
"Due to a recent forensic development, detectives from the legacy investigation branch are now following a line of inquiry in relation to the murders at Kingsmills in 1976," he said.
"We have been liaising with the coroner's office in relation to this and will continue to do so.
"We are committed to progressing this matter as expeditiously as possible and will keep them (the families) updated as appropriate."
Unionist politicians in Newry and Armagh welcomed the development, but also queried why it took four decades.
DUP MLA William Irwin described the news as a "major step forward".
"This was a brutal sectarian massacre, carried out in cold blood, and the revelation that such a key piece of evidence has lain untouched for four decades will deepen the pain of relatives who have waited so long for justice," he said.
"Now that this process is under way, it is vital, however, that the investigation is carried out quickly and thoroughly.
"The families deserve to see justice served and to know that all avenues have finally been pursued to bring those responsible to justice."
UUP MLA Danny Kennedy urged that the investigation into the palm print be completed as soon as possible.
"Kingsmills was a brutal and barbaric crime and I sincerely hope that the police now have a realistic prospect of mounting a successful prosecution of some of those responsible," he said.
"Bearing in mind that the inquest only opened last week, it is imperative that the police investigation is properly and fully resourced with a view to completing it as a matter of urgency.
"There is a saying that 'justice delayed, is justice denied'. The families and sole survivor have waited 40 years, and this fresh investigation must not be used in any way as a further delaying tactic to hamper their pursuit for maximum truth and justice."