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Kingsmill families 'wonder who to believe' after palm print breakthrough

Published 08/06/2016

The bullet-riddled minibus near Whitecross in South Armagh where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead in January 1976
The bullet-riddled minibus near Whitecross in South Armagh where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead in January 1976

The discovery of a palm print linked to the shooting of 10 Protestant workmen more than 40 years ago has left relatives wondering who and what to believe, a coroner in Northern Ireland has said.

Judge Brian Sherrard told Belfast Coroners' Court police should be given time to investigate the new lead but said families were determined to push on with the inquest.

He said: "My obligation to the deceased, to the families of the deceased and to the community as a whole, and in the interests of justice, demand that the police be allowed the opportunity to investigate this new lead.

"That however, cannot be an open-ended opportunity.

"I am acutely aware that more than 40 years have passed since the attack and that those closest to the deceased require answers while they are fit enough to participate."

The significant development in the long-unsolved investigation into the killing of the textile factory workers outside the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill in January 1976 emerged exactly one week ago - a week after the inquest opened.

The IRA was widely blamed for what was one of the most notorious outrages of the Troubles -- apparently as a reprisal for earlier loyalist murders.

The getaway vehicle used by the killers was left abandoned across the Irish border. The palm print was discovered later.

It was re-examined by forensic scientists and a potential match on the police's database was made.

A relatively junior officer had read about the new inquest in the press and requested to re-examine the print, it was claimed.

Judge Sherrard said: "This has shaken the confidence of a number of families who now wonder who to believe and what they can believe. This is quite understandable given the timing of the revelation and the circumstances in which it is said to have arisen.

"These families wish the inquest to push on despite this development as they see it as the best way for them to gain an insight into the deaths all those years ago."

While he acknowledged those closest to the deceased were most affected by their murders, the coroner added: "We as a community have lost 10 men as a result of what happened at Kingsmill.

"We as a community have an interest in determining who these men were, when they died, where they died, and perhaps most importantly how they died.

"Even if Article 2 of the European Convention (Human Rights), the right to life, is not fully engaged in this inquest, the inquest will provide an opportunity to examine the broad circumstances behind these 10 deaths.

"Part of that includes identifying who, and which organisation, if any, took part in this atrocity."

The discovery of the palm print was likely to prove "invaluable" in allowing the inquest to answer key questions, the coroner noted.

He said: "This is the first and best opportunity since 1976 to establish a verifiable link between the person who has been identified and the attack. That link may produce many more leads."

The men's minibus was stopped close to the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill on January 5 1976, and those on board were asked their religion by the gunmen. The only Catholic was told to go.

The gunmen, who were hidden in the hedges, ordered the rest to line up outside the van and then opened fire.

The 10 who died were John Bryans, Robert Chambers, Reginald Chapman, Walter Chapman, Robert Freeburn, Joseph Lemmon, John McConville, James McWhirter, Robert Samuel Walker and Kenneth Worton.

One man, Alan Black, survived, despite being shot 18 times.

No-one has ever been convicted over the massacre.

A barrister representing the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the criminal investigation was progressing.

Peter Coll told the court: "The investigation into the palm print issue will continue and is under way.

"It is incumbent in all of us to ensure that nothing is done or said that will be to the detriment of the investigation or to this inquest or more widely, to the detriment of those who were killed, the sole survivor Mr (Alan) Black and the wider community so that truth and justice can be achieved."

The court was told a revised inquest timetable had been drawn up but that evidence would be heard again on June 21.

Outside the court, Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was killed, said: "The first thing we need is truth. You don't get justice until you have the truth.

"At the minute we are just waiting for the truth, and obviously justice will follow."

Mr Worton also claimed that his faith in the police investigation was "ebbing away".

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