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Kingsmills relatives want secret documents released

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 13/09/2016

The bullet strewn van which was ambushed by an IRA murder gang in Kingsmills in 1976. The attack left 10 Protestant workmen dead. One man survived, while another, a Catholic, was freed before the massacre began
The bullet strewn van which was ambushed by an IRA murder gang in Kingsmills in 1976. The attack left 10 Protestant workmen dead. One man survived, while another, a Catholic, was freed before the massacre began

Lawyers for the families of the 10 workmen killed in the 1976 Kingsmills massacre have appealed for top secret intelligence material to be released to an inquest.

Coroner Judge Brian Sherrard, who is considering formal requests for some police and Army documentation to be blanked out, was told how the families' trust in the legal system had been eroded.

Barrister Fiona Doherty QC, representing relatives of John McConville, said: "The immediate reaction is to suspect sinister motives for a request.

"That is not helped by the history of the case and by recent developments."

During a hearing at Belfast Coroners Court it was revealed about 1,100 pages of classified material relate to the controversial case.

Barrister Richard Smyth, acting for the majority of bereaved relatives, said: "We would ask the court to consider how fundamentally important this process is to the families; how long they have waited."

He said that the court should also take into account the impact of recent developments including a major forensic breakthrough and the arrest of a murder suspect.

"Coming at the 11th hour, that has damaged trust," added Mr Smyth.

"The families have been left not knowing what to think.

"That trust is damaged and fragile."

The 10 Protestant workmen were gunned down when their minibus was ambushed in rural south Armagh on January 5, 1976 in an attack which was seen as a reprisal for loyalist killings in the same area.

Those on board the bus were asked their religion and the only Catholic was ordered to run away.

The killers, who had been hidden in the hedges, forced the rest of the textile factory workers to line up outside the van before opening fire. No-one has ever been convicted.

The original inquest held in 1978 lasted just 30 minutes and recorded an open verdict, but after years of campaigning, Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin ordered the fresh probe in 2013.

Ms Doherty QC said the coroner had an important task in balancing the public interest in disclosure against the public interest of non-disclosure.

"The default position in legal proceedings should always be openness and transparency," she said.

Meanwhile, addressing his remarks to the campaigning families who had packed into the courtroom, Judge Sherrard said he would consider each PII request on its own merits.

"Each and every one of the proposed redactions will have to be justified," he said.

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