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Kingsmill massacre: 'Finish them off' was chilling order as men lay after being mowed down

As a new inquest into 1975 IRA massacre finally opens, statement from sole survivor recalls vividly the brutality of atrocity

By Rebecca Black

Published 24/05/2016

Families of those killed in the Kingsmills massacre attend the long-awaited inquest
Families of those killed in the Kingsmills massacre attend the long-awaited inquest
The bullet-ridden van in which the men were travelling when the 1976 Kingsmills massacre occurred
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Karen Armstrong. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Alan black who survived the Kingsmills massacre along with Kevin Winters. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Willie Frazer, Beatrice Wortin and Colin Wortin. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Danny Kennedy. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Danny Kennedy along with Karen Armstrong and Alan Black. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Alan black who survived the Kingsmills massacre. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
The long-awaited inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is due to begin in Belfast. The inquest will examine the deaths of 10 Protestant workmen who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed their minibus near the County Armagh village in 1976. Alan black who survived the Kingsmills massacre. Photographer - ©Matt Mackey / Press Eye
Beatrice Worton
Alan Black
The memorial to the 10 men
May Quinn
Colin Worton

The grief of the families who lost their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles has been exacerbated by the IRA's refusal to admit responsibility, the Coroner's Court has been told.

The first day of the inquest into the Kingsmills massacre heard chilling excerpts from a statement by sole survivor Alan Black.

Ten Protestant workmen were shot dead when their minibus was ambushed by the IRA in January 1976.

Richard Hughes, the sole Catholic in the minibus of 12, was identified by his grey hair, pulled away from his colleagues and ordered to "run up the road" before the gunmen opened fire.

Mr Black said the shooting lasted for around 10 seconds and was "deafening".

He was hit in the side and fell into the ditch.

His statement recalls vividly how his dying colleagues fell on top of him and he could hear their groans of pain before he heard a man with an English accent issue the sinister order: "Finish them off."

All 11 were left for dead. Mr Black survived despite being hit by 18 bullets.

He is scheduled to give evidence tomorrow.

Mr Black listened to proceedings from the public gallery and remained composed even as the inquest heard details of how the mass shooting was carried out, but took several deep breaths at a few points.

Mr Hughes died in 2006, but the statement he made to police in 1976 will be read into evidence.

The first inquest was held shortly after the massacre and was a very "limited exercise".

Attorney General John Larkin QC ordered the new inquest after the HET found members of the IRA were involved despite a claim of responsibility from another group.

A fresh inquest into the atrocity opened at Laganside courts yesterday morning before Senior Coroner Brian Sherrard.

Counsel for the Coroner's Office Sean Doran QC opened by expressing the condolences on behalf of the office to the families of the Kingsmills victims who were present in the public gallery.

He read out each of their names and their ages when they were killed - John McConville (20); John Bryans (46); James McWhirter (58); Robert Freeburn (50); Robert Chambers (19); Robert Walker (46); Kenneth Worton (24); Joseph Lemmon (46); Reginald Chapman (25), and Walter Chapman (23).

An RUC report from the time described the atrocity as "the most savage and senseless outrage of the campaign so far that, thankfully, has not been paralleled".

The massacre was claimed at the time by a group calling itself the South Armagh Action Force.

However, the weapons identified as being used by the gunmen were the property of the Provisional IRA.

A HET report in 2010 laid the blame at the feet of the Provos, but then-Sinn Fein MLA Mitchel McLaughlin insisted the IRA was not behind it.

Barrister Neil Rafferty, who represents several families of the victims, said this continued denial causes deep hurt.

"It hurts the families I represent that the IRA still does not accept responsibility for Kingsmills," he told the inquest.

"That deep hurt could be allayed and eased in these new and enlightened times if even at this late stage there was some acknowledgement by the IRA or those that speak on their behalf."

Mr Doran revealed what he termed a "road map" of evidence in his opening statement.

He disclosed that two of the Kingsmills suspects received comfort letters, and a palm print still exists from the getaway van but has never been matched due to lack of DNA.

Mr Doran said the Coroner's Office also wanted to address rumours that Captain Robert Nairac may have been the man with the English accent mentioned by witnesses.

He said Capt Nairac was not in Northern Ireland on January 5, 1976 - the night of the massacre.

He also pointed out that one of the suspects was known to have spoken with an English accent.

The inquest has been scheduled to last for six weeks and will hear from a number of witnesses including Professor Henry Patterson, Prof Jack Crane, the Ministry of Defence and a senior PSNI witness.

Speaking outside court, Mr Black said he wanted the "unvarnished truth".

"We are relieved and apprehensive. We have fought long and hard for this review. Obstacles were put in our way; thanks to these people here we have gotten over each one," said Mr Black.

"This is a red letter day for us to finally get our day in court."

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy was also in court to support the families.

He described it as a "very important day" after "40 long years".

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