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Kingsmills live updates: 'I went to each body in turn to see if there was anything I could do', emotional account from first witness to 1976 atrocity

By Rebecca Black

Published 02/06/2016

May, with other bereaved families, emerges from the courthouse after the hearing
May, with other bereaved families, emerges from the courthouse after the hearing
Victim Robert Walker’s sister May speaks outside Belfast Coroners Court yesterday after the development in the inquest into the Kingsmills massacre
The Kingsmills massacre, which was carried out by the IRA in January 1976

The first person to come across the scene of the Kingsmills massacre has recalled how he went back to his car and cried.

Newry man Gerry McKeown made the statement as he gave evidence to the inquest into the atrocity yesterday in Belfast.

He had been driving his wife Anne and two young children to the village of Whitecross in Co Armagh where she ran a confectionary shop on the evening of Monday January 5, 1976 when they noticed a lorry stopped on the road.

Just minutes before ten Protestant workmen had been shot dead by IRA gunmen and an eleventh man left for dead.

Mr McKeown said a lorry driver had stopped just before the scene which he described as the "top of the hill" but wouldn't go up and warned him; "you don't want to go up there".

However he did and saw a minibus surrounded by bodies of the murdered mill workers.

"I have never seen anything like it and felt helpless about what I could do, I went to each body in turn to see if there was anything I could do," he said.

"I said a prayer out loud, then I went back to the car, I was unable to cope and I cried.

"Anne came back up to the minibus with me and we found a man lying in a ditch, he was very lucid, he said his name was Alan Black.

"He asked me how the other men were, I couldn't tell him."

Mr McKeown said Mr Black thought he was going to die and asked him to tell his wife to take care of the children.

"I recall I was extremely distressed, afterwards I went to the priests house, he was on the phone to the cardinal and asked me questions about what I had seen to tell the cardinal," he told the inquest.

Mr McKeown became emotional as he recalled sitting with Mr Black and him asking how young Robert Chambers was (Mr Black's teenage apprentice) who was lying dead beside them.

Last week Mr Black told the inquest how he had heard Mr Chambers cry for his mother before a gun man shot him in the face.

"There was another man lying beside us," Mr McKeown told the inquest, unable to speak for several minutes as the memory of what he saw came back to him.

"I get flashes. Straight after the incident any time I drove past that spot I put my foot to the board, I was not stopping for anyone.

"In recent times it has become more vivid, when I knew I was coming to the court it all came back."

He said that he and Mr Black may have been Catholic and Protestant respectively but in that awful moment they were praying together to the same God.

"That night in the ditch with Alan Black, I said an act of contrition for Alan, I don't know what prayer Alan said but we were praying to the one God," he said.

"I have wanted to tell the families for years ... even though what had happened there was someone there with the men ... I said an act of contrition, what Catholics call an act of sorrow, I said it out loud to embrace them all."

Mrs McKeown also gave evidence and described her husband as "distraught" when he came back from seeing the scene.

"Gerry came back in tears saying men are dead," she told the inquest.

"He was distraught."

Neither of the McKeowns gave statements to the police at the time. They have given statements to the Police Ombudsman's review of the original police investigation which is currently ongoing.

The inquest into the Kingsmills massacre is currently in its second week and has been scheduled to sit for six weeks in total.

The atrocity was initially claimed by a group calling itself the South Armagh Action Force, however the HET found the IRA were responsible.

Belfast Telegraph

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