Kingsmill: Haunted by nightmares, tortured by a survivor's guilt, at last Alan feels he is being listened to
ALMOST four decades ago the screams of his workmates were silenced in a hail of bullets. Shot 18 times and left for dead alongside the lifeless bodies of 10 of his friends, Alan Black yesterday said it had taken 38 years for their voices to be heard again.
His physical scars from that evening are evident, but the more damaging are mental.
He admits to being tortured by survivor's guilt, and haunted by the cries of his colleagues as they were cut down by their cowardly attackers.
The brutal slaying occurred during one of the darkest years of the Troubles.
But even by the bloody standards of Northern Ireland in 1976, the Kingsmills massacre stood out for its sheer horror.
Following new information the IRA was behind the slaughter, fresh inquests were ordered last year. Preliminary proceedings ahead of those inquests finally got under way yesterday, to the relief of sole survivor Mr Black. "It's been difficult," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "This is the first time we are being listened to. We have been to see Assistant Chief Constables, we have been to see the First Minister Peter Robinson, we have been to see select committees, and in every one of those meetings we were kicked into touch.
"John Leckey (Northern Ireland's senior coroner) is the first to speak out in sympathy."
Mr Black joined a delegation of victims' relatives which met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2012.
Responsibility for the massacre was claimed by a group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force. However, a report by the Historical Enquiries Team in 2011 found members of the Provisional IRA were to blame. The terror group was supposed to be on ceasefire at the time.
Mr Kenny declined to apologise for the Irish State's "lack of ability" to deal with the IRA at the time, to the frustration of the Kingsmills families.
No one has ever been brought to justice for the atrocity.
On a winter's night in January 1976, the group of textile workers were travelling home in a minibus through rural Co Armagh. Out of the dark and rain, a flashlight shone.
The van came to a stop yards from where the man waving it was stood. Within seconds 11 armed men emerged from the hedges flanking the small road.
The men on board the minibus initially believed them to be soldiers, before the terrifying realisation set in. A masked man boarded the vehicle and asked the men their religions. Richard Hughes, a Catholic, remained on the bus.
His colleagues feared it was a loyalist ambush and urged him not to identify himself.
However, when his religion came to light he was ordered from the scene. The remaining men were lined up.
One word signalled the beginning of the slaughter.
With that 136 rounds were fired, 18 of which entered Alan Black. Initial screams from the men was replaced in seconds by silence. Mr Black previously recalled: "I was semi-conscious and passed out several times with the deadly pain and cold.
"I must have been lying at the roadside waiting on the ambulance for up to 30 minutes. It was like an eternity."
Nine of the men lived in the village of Bessbrook. Between them, they had 14 children.
They were Joseph Lemmon, whose wife was preparing his tea as he died; Reginald Chapman, a Sunday school teacher; his younger brother Walter Chapman; Kenneth Worton, whose youngest daughter had not started school; James McWhirter, who belonged to the local Orange lodge; Robert Chambers, a teenager living with his parents; John McConville, who was planning to train as a missionary; John Bryans, a widower who left two children orphaned, and Robert Freeburn, also a father-of-two. The van driver, Robert Walker, came from near Glenanne.
State agents 'may have had Kingsmills role'
THE lone survivor of an IRA massacre of 10 Protestant workmen believes State agents may have been involved in the attack, a Coroner's Court has heard, writes David Young
A lawyer for Alan Black made the claim as preliminary proceedings got under way ahead of a new inquest into the Kingsmills shootings in 1976.
Ten textile workers were shot dead by the side of a road near the Co Armagh village after masked gunmen flagged down the minibus they were travelling home from work in.
The killers asked all the occupants of the vehicle what religion they were.
The only Catholic worker was ordered away from the scene and the 11 remaining workmates were then gunned down.
Only Mr Black survived, despite being shot 18 times.
At the first preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast's Old Town Hall barrister Eugene McKenna, representing Mr Black, told Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey that his client suspected State involvement.
"Mr Black believes there may have been agents of the State involved in the attack itself," he said.
Mr Leckey said he had read Mr Black's account of what unfolded on the day and had been shocked.
"It's difficult, really, to take in the horror that he experienced," he said.
The coroner added: "This was one of the most horrific incidents in the so-called Troubles and I'm sure not only for Mr Black, but for the families (of the dead), the horror of what happened is still very much to the forefront of their minds."
No one has ever been convicted of the murders. There were 12 men in the gang that carried out the attack.
The 10 men who died were John Bryans; Robert Chambers; Reginald Chapman; Walter Chapman; Robert Freeburn; Joseph Lemmon; John McConville; James McWhirter; Robert Samuel Walker, and Kenneth Worton.
The court heard that Richard Hughes – the Catholic man who managed to escape the carnage – had since died.
The IRA never admitted responsibility for the murders, but an investigation by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) three years ago found that members of the republican organisation did perpetrate the attack, motivated purely by sectarianism.
Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin ordered the fresh inquest last year after a long campaign by bereaved relatives.
Explaining his decision, Mr Larkin said new evidence had emerged through the HET investigation.
At yesterday morning's hearing Mr Leckey said part of the inquest's role was to try to identify who carried out the shootings.
The coroner also ordered any forensic exhibits which had not already been re-examined as part of the HET investigation to be tested again. "That should happen now and I should be advised of the results and outcome as soon as that's known," he said.