Belfast Telegraph

Kingsmills: Inquest hears chilling eye witness accounts of 1976 atrocity

Sole survivor wants 'unvarnished truth' as inquest begins 40 years after massacre

By Rebecca Black

The opening day of a new inquest into the IRA's murder of ten Protestant workmen at Kingsmills has heard chilling eye witness accounts of the massacre.

Counsel for the Coroner's Office Sean Doran QC opened the inquest by expressing the condolences on behalf of the Coroner's Office to the families of the Kingsmills victims who were present in the public gallery.

He read out each of their names and ages the victims had been when they were killed - John McConville (20), John Bryans (46), James McWhirter (58), Robert Freeburn (50), Robert Chambers (19), Robert Walker (46), Kenneth Worton (24), Joseph Lemmon (46), Reginald Chapman (25) and Walter Chapman (23).

A twelfth man, Richard Hughes, was identified as Catholic, separated from his workmates ordered to "run up the road" before the shooting started.

Alan Black was the sole survivor of the group targeted by the gunmen. He remained dignified throughout the inquest, even as Mr Doran read out details of how the mass shooting was carried out, but took several deep breaths at a few points.

Mr Doran read an account of the massacre on January 5, 1976, which included reading sections from witness statements given by Mr Black and Mr Hughes to police days after the event.

A mini bus set off from a textile factory in Glenanne at 5.20pm that fateful day. It dropped workers off at Whitecross before heading on towards Bessbrook, but shortly before the bus reached the Kingsmills cross roads it was waved down by a man with a red light.

The men were all ordered out of the bus and ordered to line up alongside it by a man with an English accent dressed in military style clothing.

Mr Black was the last off the bus, his statement says he saw three men in military clothing emerge from a gate at a nearby field and also saw seven or eight other men approach from another direction, they were also in military clothing and they were carrying rifles.

The man with the English accent who ordered the van to stop ordered the workmen to line up against the van with their hands placed on it.

The same man then asked "who is the Roman Catholic?". Mr Hughes' statement says Reginald Hughes and another man to the other side of him squeezed his hands.

Mr Doran read out a section from Mr Hughes statement: "Next thing I heard someone say take that grey haired man out, and someone's voice said run down the road."

Mr Hughes said he asked which direction to run and was told "run down the f***ing road". His statement said he couldn't run fast as he was very frightened and shaken, assuming he was about to be shot. He was followed by two men who pushed him over a wire fence and ordered him to lie face down in bracken. At that point Mr Hughes heard a burst of automatic gun fire followed by a couple of shots.

Back at the scene of the shooting Mr Black's statement said the man with the English accent said "right" after Mr Hughes had left the group and then the gunfire started.

The statement recalls a burst of shooting which went on for ten seconds and was described as "deafening". Mr Black was hit on the right side by a bullet and fell into a ditch. He could hear the groans of pain from his colleagues before he heard the same man with the English accent order "finish them off".

Mr Hughes died in 2006, his statement from 1976 will be referred to during the inquest.

Mr Doran said the Coroner's Office would also like to address rumours that Captain Robert Nairac may have been the man with the English accent mentioned by witnesses. He said Captain Nairac was not in Northern Ireland on January 5, 1976. He also pointed out that one of the suspects was known to have spoken with an English accent.

Mr Doran also made references to a number of witnesses, a green van which the gunmen are believed to have used as a getaway vehicle.

A palm print was discovered on an inside window of that van, but had not been matched by either the PSNI or Garda so far.

The inquest is being heard by Senior Coroner Brian Sherrard.

Lawyers are also in attendance on behalf of the families of the victims, the MoD and the PSNI.

Earlier the sole survivor of the Kingsmills massacre said he wants the inquest to reveal the "unvarnished truth".

Alan Black was speaking outside Laganside courts this morning ahead of the opening of a new inquest into the IRA's shooting of ten Protestant workmen in 1976.

Relatives of several of those murdered are present at court 13 this morning for the start of the inquest which is scheduled to run for six weeks.

Speaking outside court Mr Black said that he has been waiting a long time for this inquest to commence.

"This is our red letter day - we've finally got our day in court," he said.

He is expected to give evidence on Wednesday.

Today the inquest is expected to hear opening statements.

At the time of the massacre it was claimed by the South Armagh Reaction Force, however the Historical Enquiries Team found that it had been carried out by the IRA.

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy is also in court this morning to support the families.

He described it as a "very important day", after "forty long years".

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