Kingsmill families will take suspect to civil court
Public prosecutors say evidence is not strong enough for criminal case
Relatives of 10 men killed in the Kingsmill massacre have vowed to pursue through the civil courts a man whose palm print was found on the suspected getaway vehicle.
It comes after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced it was unable to pursue a case against the suspect due to "insufficient evidence".
The 59-year-old was arrested last August after a palm print in a van linked to the atrocity was finally matched after 41 years.
He is believed to have made a series of no comment police interviews. And despite a "bad character" record, PPS assistant director of central casework Michael Agnew said staff had "concluded that there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction based on the available evidence and that the test for prosecution is therefore not met".
A new inquest into the murders was suspended last year while the PSNI pursued the major breakthrough in the investigation into the 1976 atrocity.
It is understood that while the print was matched successfully, a lack of surviving Garda and RUC records from the original investigation made it difficult to link the van with the murders, and to prove exactly when the palm print was discovered in the van.
Sole survivor of the atrocity, Alan Black, said he was left disappointed by the decision.
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was killed in the shootings, said he felt let down by the police investigation, particularly for his mother who is now 90 years old, and fears she may not see justice in her lifetime.
Speaking on behalf of some of the families, victims' campaigner William Frazer said they are not planning to appeal the PPS decision, and were keen to allow the second inquest to resume.
But after the inquest has concluded he said the families plan a civil case, believing that while the evidence may not pass the "beyond reasonable doubt" test of a criminal trial, it may be enough for the level of evidence required in the civil courts.
In a letter to the families, the PPS said that the "bad character of the accused" makes it "unlikely" that "any contact between the suspect and the van was in innocent circumstances prior to the Kingsmill murders".
It adds, however, that the bad character evidence "whilst providing some support, cannot overcome" the difficulty connecting the van to the murders.
Mr Frazer vowed: "This is just the beginning rather than the end. We would like just to reassure the families that we promise not to leave any stone unturned," he said. "Today's decision by the PPS has come as no surprise to the families because the evidential threshold for a criminal prosecution is set very high, which is to be expected.
"The families understand that and are happy now the inquest is going to move forward, because we are finding out more and more information through the coroner and other new witnesses who have come forward after 40 years, but we do intend to return to the palm print and the vehicle used in the Kingsmill massacre because in a civil action the need of proof is lower and in the letter from the PPS it is clearly stated that in all probability that this was the vehicle that was used and given the history of this individual and that it was an unlikelihood that any contact between the suspect and the van was innocent."
In 2013, republicans Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were found liable for the 1998 Omagh bomb after relatives of the victims of that atrocity pursued a case through the civil courts.
Ten Protestant workmen were killed in the Kingsmill massacre on the evening of January 5, 1976.
They were with colleagues from work in a textile factory in Glenanne travelling towards Bessbrook when their minibus was pulled over by gunmen.
One Catholic man with the group was ordered to "run up the road".
The attack was claimed at the time by the "South Armagh Republican Action Force".
However, in 2011 the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) claimed that the atrocity had been the work of the Provisional IRA. No one has ever been prosecuted for the shootings.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said police remain committed to bringing offenders to justice, but would not comment on the PPS decision.
Ulster Unionist Assembly election candidate for Newry and Armagh Danny Kennedy and DUP candidate William Irwin also expressed their disappointment in the PPS decision, and added their support for and solidarity with sole survivor Mr Black and the families of the victims.