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Inquest told Kingsmill suspects received OTR letters

By Allan Preston

Two suspects linked to the Kingsmill massacre have received on-the-run 'comfort letters' taking them off police wanted lists, an inquest has heard.

The atrocity on January 5, 1976, saw 11 Protestant men returning home from work lined up and shot by the Provisional IRA. Only Alan Black survived.

The inquest resumed last week after a police investigation into new evidence postponed proceedings for almost a year.

Intelligence reports read in the court have referred to 13 suspects believed to be responsible for the slaughter at Kingsmill in south Armagh.

Yesterday the court heard that one suspect, S97, was connected to 32 murders in addition to Kingsmill.

He was also linked to the 1979 Narrow Water ambush in Warrenpoint that left 18 British soldiers dead, and the murder of three Scottish soldiers in Belfast in 1971.

Despite this, it was revealed he had been issued with one of the OTR letters in 2003.

A PSNI memo was then issued in 2007 instructing that he was no longer wanted by police.

The man in question was described as a retired British paratrooper who went on to join the IRA.

The inquest also heard that a second suspect linked to Kingsmill, S77, was issued with an OTR letter.

The main witness in court yesterday was retired RUC officer Charles Hamilton, who had worked as an Army-Garda liason.

He said the Kingsmill ambush was not anticipated as the victims were innocent men with no connection to the security services.

When questioned by a lawyer for the victims' families, he admitted he was surprised the OTR letters had been granted.

Speaking yesterday, Protestant victims' campaigner Willie Frazer welcomed the progress in court, but said it was hard to believe two suspects may not face justice.

"We are shocked that two of the suspects have received OTR letters, one of whom is the retired paratrooper turned IRA member. Indeed, the RUC liaison officer was shocked that this was the case as he believed the suspects had a case to answer and therefore should still be on a police wanted list," he said.

"Given the fact there is a witch-hunt to bring British soldiers to court, it's ironic a retired paratrooper turned Provo has an on-the-run letter.

"As the inquest continues it is becoming very clear there is nowhere to hide. When this inquest concludes there'll be a justified call for an inquiry."

Last week the court heard another of the Kingsmill suspects, S91, has been linked to 46 murders. And it was revealed the 11 weapons used in the attack could be linked to over 40 other serious terrorist incidents.

Responsibility for Kingsmill was originally claimed by a group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force.

However, the Historical Enquiries Team and the PSNI have both insisted this was a cover name used by the Provisional IRA when an attack provoked public outrage.

Further testimony heard how the IRA's army council had reprimanded the south Armagh brigade before Kingsmill for carrying out sectarian killings, including the murder of five people at Tullyvallen Orange hall in 1975.

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