Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 May 2016

Kingsmill massacre survivor pleads for 'truth and justice'

Published 05/01/2016

Alan Black was hit 18 times and left for dead alongside the lifeless bodies of his friends near the South Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976
Alan Black was hit 18 times and left for dead alongside the lifeless bodies of his friends near the South Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976

The slaughter of 10 Protestant workmen in Northern Ireland exactly 40 years ago should never be forgotten, the sole survivor of the IRA attack has said.

Alan Black was hit 18 times and left for dead alongside the lifeless bodies of his friends near the South Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976.

A new inquest has been scheduled for the spring and Mr Black, now 72, hopes it will unearth some of the uncomfortable truths surrounding the massacre which still haunts him.

He said: "It should never be allowed to be forgotten.

"I want to know is why was it done; who did it; and what did they think it would do for their cause?

"It just baffles me."

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 worst years of the Troubles.

Their minibus was stopped and those on board were asked their religion.

The only Catholic on board was ordered to flee as the gunmen, who had been hidden in the hedges, opened fire on his 11 colleagues.

The 10 men 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, a 32-year-old father of three was seriously wounded and spent months recovering in hospital.

Forty years on, he is still tormented by the cries of his workmates and a sense of survivors' guilt but is driven by a desire to get to the truth.

"It was brutal what was inflicted on us," he said. "Ten completely innocent men taken out and brutally murdered.

"This time of year, I go into countdown mode -- I look at the calendar and at the clock and think to myself 'the boys have only five days or five hours or five minutes to live', right up to the time of the ambush.

"On a nice summer's day it is like it happened to someone else in a different life but when the winter sets in and the dark nights come round it feels like it just happened yesterday.

"But, I want to see a bit of truth and justice. For the boys, but mostly for the families who are still searching for the truth."

The Kingsmill shootings happened a day after the Glenanne Gang, a notorious loyalist murder squad, gunned down six Catholics from two families during a killing spree in Co Armagh.

The IRA, which was supposed to be on ceasefire, never admitted involvement and the murders were claimed by the little-known South Armagh Republican Action Force.

However, in June 2011, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) found that the IRA was responsible and said the workmen were targeted because of their religion.

No one has ever been convicted for the Kingsmill attack leaving relatives of those killed feeling robbed of justice and "shunned" by the authorities.

The original inquest held in 1978 lasted just 30 minutes and recorded an open verdict, adding to their distress.

In 2013 Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin ordered a fresh probe. Preliminary proceedings have already begun and at least three weeks have been set aside for a new hearing in April.

Mr Black has claimed information that could come to light will show how efforts to catch the culprits were missed.

"It is my opinion that there was a cover up," he said.

"I really hope the cover up started after it happened but I am beginning to suspect they knew it was going to happen and they allowed it to happen.

"I have had a lot of time to think and it's the only thing that makes any sense.

"No one was ever convicted and they are not looking for anybody."

Meanwhile, Karen Armstrong, whose brother John McConville was among those killed, said it was time for the full truth to be told.

She said: "I always thought the worst about Kingsmill for all these years and nobody has come along to disprove that.

"A lot of people were being protected back then and they still are.

"The injustice that was inflicted on all the families was really, really awful.

"It is time that we were told what happened and who was involved. We have waited 40 years."

Mr McConville, a Christian, had hoped to become a missionary in Africa and confirmation that he had been accepted into Bible college came through a day after his murder.

Mrs Armstrong, who was 18 at the time, also hopes the 40th anniversary may prick someone's conscience.

"John was just such a good lad; a gentle fella who just brought good to people," she added. " We have all got a conscience and I have often thought how have the people who carried out the attack gone through life, looking at their own children or grandchildren, knowing what they have done?"

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy, a longstanding supporter of the Kingsmill families, has paid tribute to their ongoing campaign for justice.

"We reach the milestone of 40 years with the hope that a fresh coroner's inquest will take place in the early part of 2016, perhaps offering a glimmer of hope to the sole survivor and remaining relatives and campaigners who have yearned for the truth to finally emerge.

"I pay tribute to the quiet dignity of Alan Black and the families - seeking justice, not revenge.

"To many, this is a time of painful memory, as indeed each day of these long 40 years has been.

"We owe it to the memory of those who were so cruelly murdered, and to those who have had to continue to live with the terrible consequences of that night, never to forget the story of Kingsmill."

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