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Kingsmill massacre survivor heard 'moaning and groaning' of workmates

Published 24/05/2016

Kingsmill massacre survivor Alan Black outside Belfast Coroner's Court
Kingsmill massacre survivor Alan Black outside Belfast Coroner's Court

The sole survivor of a sectarian massacre by the IRA in Northern Ireland lay beneath his dying colleagues as they moaned and battled for life, an inquest has been told.

Alan Black said the noise was deafening as a blast of gunfire killed 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmill in 1976. Another man - a Catholic - cowered in a nearby field after he was ordered to flee.

As the victims lay there the commander of the republican unit said: "Finish them off."

More than five weeks have been set aside for the coroner's inquiry into the Kingsmill shooting, which police described as the most senseless and savage killing of the early Troubles.

Karen Armstrong, a sister of John Armstrong who died in a hail of bullets, said: "John believed in truth and justice throughout his life and I hope during this process that we hear the truth.

"It is all we want and I think it is what we deserve."

The textile factory workers were ambushed as they travelled along the Whitecross to Bessbrook road in rural south Armagh on January 5 1976 - one of the darkest years of the Troubles - allegedly in reprisal for earlier loyalist killings.

Father-of-three Mr Black was shot several times.

Outside court he said he wanted the "unvarnished truth".

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

The men's minibus was stopped and those on board asked their religion by the gunmen.

The gunmen, who were hidden in the hedges, ordered them to line up outside the van 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.

Mr Black's statement was read out by barrister Sean Doran during the inquest. He said the noise of the shooting was "deafening" as he fell on his face with another man collapsing across his legs.

He could hear the moaning and groaning of his workmates.

A police report at the time read to the coroner said: "What happened then is perhaps the most savage and senseless single outrage in the present campaign. Fortunately it has not yet been paralleled.

"It resulted in 10 completely innocent workmen losing their lives and an 11th badly injured.

"One man escaped only because of his religion."

Richard Hughes, the man who was ordered to flee, recalled the armed men asking which one was the Roman Catholic.

"The person on my right squeezed my hand.

"I glanced out of the side of my eye. I did not move."

The Kingsmill attack was claimed by a little-known republican paramilitary group considered to be a front for the supposedly-on-ceasefire IRA.

However, in 2011, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of independent detectives found the IRA had been responsible and had targeted the workmen because of their religion.

The inquest was ordered by Northern Ireland's attorney general John Larkin QC.

Mr Doran told the hearing that two suspects linked to the killings were given On The Run "letters of comfort" from Tony Blair's government as part of a deal with Sinn Fein during the peace process, to allow IRA members on the run, or wanted fugitives, back into Northern Ireland.

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