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Man will not face prosecution over Kingsmill massacre 'getaway van palm print'

A man whose palm print was allegedly found on a suspected getaway vehicle used in a mass sectarian murder of 10 workmen in Northern Ireland will not be prosecuted.

The region's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said there was "insufficient evidence" to offer a reasonable prospect of convicting the individual arrested on suspicion of shooting dead the Protestant workmen in an outrage widely known as the Kingsmill massacre.

The victims were lined up on a country road in rural south Armagh and shot dead in a sectarian attack that was widely blamed on the IRA. Another man - Alan Black - survived despite being shot 18 times.

Michael Agnew, the PPS's Assistant Director of Central Casework, said lawyers had given "careful consideration to all of the evidence" and had applied the test for prosecution.

"We have concluded that there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction based on the available evidence and that the test for prosecutions is therefore not met," he said.

Mr Black said he was disappointed but understood and accepted the PPS's decision. No one has ever been convicted of the Kingsmill murders.

"I am disappointed obviously that no one has been held to account," said Mr Black.

The PPS move means a stalled inquest into the killings will now be able to resume.

Karen Armstrong, whose brother John McConville was one of those murdered, appealed to his killers to search their conscience and at least give answers to the coroner.

"John had been accepted for Bible college and was ready to serve the same God that the gunmen may believe in," she said.

"These men made a choice on 5 January 1976 that has fundamentally affected the families of John and his colleagues ever since.

"The perpetrators have had 41 years to reflect on this and may have had regrets."

It is understood a lack of Garda and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) records in regard to how the van was forensically handled upon its discovery near Dundalk in the Irish Republic was a factor in the PPS's decision.

Detectives who prepared a file for the PPS to assess had been unable to trace any documents indicating the exact time the vehicle was found the day after the January 5 attack, or where it was taken for examination, or even the precise location of the palm print position on the inside of the windscreen.

So while prosecutors did not perceive matching the print to the individual as an issue, the missing forensic records hampered the already difficult process of establishing when the palm might have been placed on the windscreen.

Evidence linking the van to the shootings was also circumstantial in nature. While the PPS did have two witnesses identifying the green Bedford van as being in the general vicinity both before and after the attack, the sightings did not place it directly at the murder scene.

The new inquest into the Kingsmill murders had only started hearing evidence last year when police made the dramatic announcement that they had apparently matched the print to an individual.

Months later a 59-year-old man was arrested in Newry, Co Down, on suspicion of the 10 murders and Mr Black's attempted murder.

The man, who had previous terror convictions, was released pending a police file being sent to prosecutors for assessment. It is understood he exercised his legal right not to comment during police questioning.

At a subsequent inquest hearing, a lawyer for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said detectives believed the print belonged to the arrested man.

Mr Agnew announced the decision on Thursday.

"We are mindful of the disappointment that this decision will bring to the surviving victim and families of those who were killed," he added.

"Although 41 years have passed since this atrocity, we are conscious that their pain endures."

The textile workers were shot when their minibus was ambushed outside the village of Kingsmill on their way home from work.

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

The killers, who had been hidden in the hedges, forced the 11 remaining men to line up outside the van before opening fire.

While the murders have long been linked to the IRA, the organisation itself never admitted responsibility.

The attack was seen as a reprisal for loyalist killings in the same area days earlier.

Responding to the PPS announcement, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: " As prosecutorial decisions are a matter for the PPS, we will not be commenting further.

"PSNI remain committed to supporting the ongoing inquest, bringing offenders to justice and protecting the public."

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