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Kingsmill massacre inquest left in limbo by a shortage of coroners

By Michael McHugh and Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 24/04/2015

Eight of the 10 victims murdered by the IRA at Kingsmill, Co Armagh, in 1976. Top, from left: Robert Chambers, John Bryans, Joseph Lemon and Joseph McWhirter. Bottom, from left: Walter Chapman, John McConville, Kenneth Wharton and Reggie Chapman
Eight of the 10 victims murdered by the IRA at Kingsmill, Co Armagh, in 1976. Top, from left: Robert Chambers, John Bryans, Joseph Lemon and Joseph McWhirter. Bottom, from left: Walter Chapman, John McConville, Kenneth Wharton and Reggie Chapman
Taoiseach Enda Kenny lays flowers at a memorial to the Kingsmills massacre victims yesterday
Kingsmill victim Jimmy McWhinter.
The funeral of two of the Kingsmills victims in 1976
Kingsmill victim John McConville.
Reggie and Walter Chapman: Protestant brothers brutally murdered on lonely roadside in S. Armagh, Kingsmill Massacre/Shooting. 5/1/1976. Their Bessbrook funeral. 8/1/1976.
The bullet riddled minibus near Whitecross in South Armagh where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead
Alan Black:Survivor of the Kingsmill, Armagh, Massacre/Shooting, when he was shot with his 10 workmates in an ambushon their way home from work by gunmen. Pictured at the Kingsmill Memorial monument. 4/1/1981
Kingsmill victim Joseph Lemmon.
Kingsmill victim Robert Chambers.
Collect of Kingsmill victim Walter Chapman.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 16th June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Historical Enquires Team report into the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by republicans when they stopped their work minibus in the Kingsmill area. One man survived with a Catholic workmate being told to leave. Collect of Kingsmill victim Robert Freeburn.
James McWhirter:Brutally murdered on lonely roadside in S. Armagh, Kingsmill Massacre/Shooting. 5/1/1976.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 16th June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Historical Enquires Team report into the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by republicans when they stopped their work minibus in the Kingsmill area. One man survived with a Catholic workmate being told to leave. Collect of Kingsmill victim John Bryans.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 16th June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Historical Enquires Team report into the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by republicans when they stopped their work minibus in the Kingsmill area. One man survived with a Catholic workmate being told to leave. Collect of Kingsmill victim Robert Walker.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 16th June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Historical Enquires Team report into the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by republicans when they stopped their work minibus in the Kingsmill area. One man survived with a Catholic workmate being told to leave. Collect of Kingsmill victim Reggy Chapman.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 16th June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Historical Enquires Team report into the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by republicans when they stopped their work minibus in the Kingsmill area. One man survived with a Catholic workmate being told to leave. Collect of Kingsmill victim Kenneth Worton.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 16th June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - Historical Enquires Team report into the 1976 Kingsmill massacre. 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead by republicans when they stopped their work minibus in the Kingsmill area. One man survived with a Catholic workmate being told to leave. Collect of Kingsmill victim Jimmy McWhinter.
John McConville 19 Kingsmill massacre/ protestant shot dead on lonely roadside in south Armagh, killed along with him were 9 of his workmates 05/01/1976
John McConville (20) :Brutally murdered on lonely roadside in S. Armagh, Kingsmill

An inquest into an IRA massacre of 10 Protestant workmen has been delayed because no coroner will be available to hear it.

Republicans ambushed a minibus carrying the men at Kingsmill, Co Armagh, in 1976 and shot them dead after asking what religion they were.

Victims' families are to launch a High Court judicial review of the alleged "deliberate" failure of the authorities in Northern Ireland to properly resource an inquest into their sectarian murders.

Senior coroner John Leckey is retiring later this year and no replacement has been appointed, he told a preliminary hearing of the inquest in Belfast. Once he leaves there could be only one coroner in the country.

Kingsmill is among dozens of inquests dating from the early days of the conflict which face delay because not enough money is available to investigate or there is nobody to oversee fresh hearings.

Mr Leckey said: "I feel for the bereaved families, not exclusively Kingsmill but for other inquests I am involved in. It is a disappointment that is widespread."

Human rights lawyer Kevin Winters, who represents some of the Kingsmill victims, said: "It is farcical to suggest that one coroner can deal with so many legacy cases, it is nonsense."

The Stormont House political agreement signed before Christmas between the five political parties envisaged a system for dealing with legacy inquests but it has been threatened by Sinn Fein's refusal to implement welfare cuts.

Outside the court, Karen Armstrong, a sister of one of the Kingsmill dead, said: "It is a political difficulty, it is a political problem.

"We are not going to lie down and accept it, we will fight until we get another date and they have to make sure there are enough coroners in Northern Ireland to deal with our and many other cases."

A listing to hold the inquest in June was abandoned because legal matters will take longer than anticipated to complete.

Mr Leckey's retirement is imminent. He said: "At the minute there are two coroners.

"I am almost at the exit, leaving one in post, and it is a matter for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to resolve.

"I am not in a position to hold the Kingsmill inquest. There is no coroner able to take up these inquests."

The judicial review will be taken against the DoJ and Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister collectively.

Mr Winters said: "It is a disgrace the way the families have been treated, with what many of them believe is the deliberate under-resourcing of the coroner's office."

Background

Ten textile workers were gunned down after an IRA gang stopped their minibus close to the Co Armagh village of Kingmill as they were travelling home from work. They were forced to line up alongside the van and ordered to divulge their religion. The only Catholic worker was told to flee the scene while the 11 remaining were shot. Just one man, Alan Black, survived, despite being hit 18 times. No one has ever been convicted of the murders.

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