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Kingsmills: New inquest finally begins 40 years after terror atrocity

Relatives of 10 murder victims hope for answers and closure through inquiry into one of the Troubles' most notorious attacks

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 23/05/2016

The bullet-ridden van in which the men were travelling when the 1976 Kingsmills massacre occurred
The bullet-ridden van in which the men were travelling when the 1976 Kingsmills massacre occurred
Beatrice Worton
Alan Black
The memorial to the 10 men
May Quinn
Colin Worton

The tears fell as heavy as the sleety rain on the day they buried the dead of Kingsmills.

For some, 40 years later, those tears are still there.

May Quinn struggles for composure as she recalls memories of her brother Bobby Walker, one of 10 Protestant workmen shot down on a country road.

"He was the kindest person there ever was - he was good to everyone," she said.

"Everyone looked up to him. He was a real gentleman. Quiet, but a gentleman."

In the coming days more tears will be shed as the voices of Kingsmills are heard again.

A new inquest, ordered after a long campaign by relatives who see it as a final chance for closure, opens this morning.

Scheduled to run for six weeks - the original inquest was over in 30 minutes - it will turn the spotlight on one of the darkest periods of The Troubles.

The day has come too late for some who have gone to their graves without knowing the full story of how their loved ones died.

Others, like 88-year-old Beatrice Worton, know this is their last chance.

Her 24-year-old son Kenneth was among the victims.

"I was 49 when it happened and I'm coming 89 now," she said.

"We're just living in hope of what Monday brings, and all the other days."

Her son, Kenneth's brother, Colin, said: "I was only 15, so I wasn't there, and it didn't last very long.

"So we're going to hear much more than we ever did before.

"We still have a lot of questions, the main ones being who killed him and why, where are they now and what's going to happen to them."

Even by the violence of 1976, the Kingsmills massacre stands out for its sheer horror.

A wave of sectarian bloodshed across Co Armagh culminated with a chilling attack.

The minibus was returning from Compton's Spinning Mill in Glenanne to Bessbrook, a journey of a few miles.

As it cleared the rise of a hill, there was a man standing in the road flashing a torch.

In the darkness, 11 other men, all armed, emerged from the hedges.

The only Catholic left on the bus, Richard Hughes, was identified and ordered away from his Protestant workmates.

The lead gunman spoke one other word - "Right" - and the shooting began.

When it was over, less than a minute later, 136 shots had been fired and 10 men lay dead.

They included Reginald Chapman, a Sunday school teacher who played football for Newry Town, and his younger brother Walter Chapman.

Joseph Lemmon was shot as his wife was at home making his tea.

Kenneth Worton's youngest child had not even started school, while Robert Chambers was still a teenager and living with his parents.

John McConville was planning to train as a missionary. John Bryans, a widower, left two children orphaned.

The others were James McWhirter, Robert Freeburn and Bobby Walker, the van driver.

An 11th man, Alan Black, was shot 18 times and left for dead, but miraculously survived. For him it is no longer about justice.

"It has been like a raw wound for 40 years and this is about bringing some form of comfort to the families," he said.

Others, like Mr Worton, take a different view.

"I think justice means different things to different people," he added.

"To me it means the guilty are found and punished.

"My justice is still the same as what it says in the dictionary, but I think a lot of other people have moved from that."

He believes the passage of time should not be an obstacle to that justice.

"We appreciate a lot of them may be dead, but if there are people still living they should be hunted," he added.

"You see how Nazi war criminals are hunted even today. Age should not make a difference."

May, who is now 81, is hoping for answers to some of the questions which still linger around her brother's death.

She was at the original inquest and remembers: "They read out the names and said they died because they were shot.

"The only solicitor that asked any questions was the solicitor that was there for Bobby.

"It was a closed shop."

She is troubled that today's inquest has come too late for some.

"My mother lived until she was 90, almost 91, and she never got any answers," she added.

"My father died within a year of Kingsmills - he just died of a broken heart."

The IRA never admitted involvement and was supposed to be on ceasefire at the time.

The South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed the deaths.

However, a 2011 report by the Historical Enquiries Team concluded the IRA was responsible.

Nine of the Kingsmills victims lived in Bessbrook, a small, Quaker model village which was left devastated.

Many of the families still live in the area.

A permanent memorial stands on the site of the massacre.

Earlier this year, a service was held to mark the 40th anniversary.

May added: "You never forget. You remember every minute. Other people forget, but we can't. It never leaves your mind.

"If anybody mentions the fifth of January - it doesn't matter when the year is or what they are talking about - it's there. It's the first thing that hits you."

The Worton family were unable to see Kenneth for a final time because of the severity of his injuries.

Colin added: "It made it hard because the coffin wasn't open.

"He had been shot around the face.

"If you see a dead person at least you maybe become more accepting of it. We only saw a box."

Asked about his hopes for the coming weeks, Colin added: "We hope we will come out a lot wiser. We might not like the truth, but at least tell us it.

"People say we might not be capable of taking the truth - let us be the judge of that."

He hopes to make the journey from Markethill to Belfast most days.

"It will not be an easy thing because it will be hours getting there, sitting there and coming home, but it's something we have to do," he added.

"We believe we have to do it for the sake of Kenneth's memory.

"Our life is on hold until we get results out of this."

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