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Kingsmills inquest: Reliving that dreadful day to help families find truth

By Rebecca Black

Published 26/05/2016

The bullet riddled minibus where ten Protestant textile workers were shot shot dead in a sectarian IRA attack near the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976
The bullet riddled minibus where ten Protestant textile workers were shot shot dead in a sectarian IRA attack near the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill in 1976

Alan Black may have been reliving the most traumatic moments of his life, but the only point when his heartache broke through his quiet dignity came as he talked about his teenage apprentice Robert Chambers.

The Bessbrook man may only have worked at Glenanne mill for a short time, but he formed a close friendship with the teenager.

He maintained this quiet dignity at the inquest, even during prolonged questioning about in which direction his body had been lying after he had been riddled with bullets, and after being shown photographs of the minibus at the fateful spot on the road where 10 of his friends were murdered while he was left for dead. Senior Coroner Brian Sherrard asked him at several points whether he was comfortable and apologised for putting him through the painful memories. Each time he simply replied: "It's okay."

It was only as he spoke about Mr Chambers, describing him as a lovely lad and recalling how he had fallen in love with a girl called Wendy, that his voice started to shake, devastated at such a young life so brutally cut short.

Just a short time before he died, the 18-year-old had been dancing with joy after Mr Black finally agreed to teach him how to drive. The next thing, Mr Black was watching him die.

Doctors found no fewer than 18 bullet holes in Mr Black's body. Those physical wounds took a long time to heal, and the psychological wounds were just as severe.

He took his young family away to live in Scotland for several years after the atrocity, and admitted he felt he had lost years of his life after doctors prescribed him drugs such as valium.

Despite his suffering, it is clear he feels a deep moral duty to other people, from the families of his murdered workmates to the nurse who helped him at the roadside, the paramedic who took him to hospital and a priest who stayed with him as he was taken away for surgery. At yesterday's hearing, Mr Black thanked paramedic Sean Murphy for taking him straight to Daisy Hill Hospital, saying he believes that the quick decision saved his life.

He told the inquest that two detectives turned up at the hospital in the aftermath.The doctor was so horrified he tried to chase them away, arguing his patient was too ill to be interviewed.

Mr Black was adamant he would speak to them, determined that the truth of Kingsmills should be known.

Despite not speaking about the atrocity publicly for many years, he said he was determined to give evidence to the inquest in order to help the families of his murdered workmates find the truth.

Mr Black admitted he shielded them from the more violent details of the atrocity for years, wanting to protect them from any more pain.

He explained that growing up together in the village of Bessbrook the men had worked and played together from childhood, and had more than just a colleagues' bond.

This was perhaps why the only other point when he appeared more emotional came when barrister Neil Rafferty thanked him for his bravery.

"They (the families) realise how hard this would be for you to do, but that they were looking forward to hearing your evidence because they needed to know it.

"Can I just thank you for your bravery on their behalf and the kindness you have shown them by doing this."

Belfast Telegraph

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