Kingsmill inquest delayed as no coroner available

April 27, 2015

An inquest into the Kingsmill  Massacre has been postponed due to the absence of a coroner to hear the proceedings.

Ten Protestant workmen were murdered by the IRA in the massacre in 1976 after a mini-bus carrying the men home from work was ambushed near the village of Kingsmill by eleven armed men, using the cover name of the south Armagh Republican Action Force.  The only Catholic worker was told to flee the scene while the 11 remaining were shot. One man, Alan Black, survived, despite being shot 18 times.

No one has ever been convicted of the murders. A listing to hold the inquest in June was abandoned because legal matters will take longer than anticipated to complete.

Senior coroner John Leckey, who is retiring this year, told a preliminary hearing of the inquest in Belfast last week that his replacement has not been appointed. Once he retires there could be just one coroner in Northern Ireland.

Kingsmill is among several Troubles related inquests that face delays because of a lack of funding available to investigate or no-one available to oversee fresh hearings.

Mr Leckey said: “I feel for the bereaved families, not exclusively Kingsmill but for other inquests I am involved in.

“It is a disappointment that is widespread.”

Human rights lawyer Kevin Winters,  who represents some of the Kingsmill victims, said it was “farcical” to suggest that one coroner could deal with so many legacy cases.

“It is a disgrace the way the families have been treated, with what many of them believe is the deliberate under-resourcing of the coroner’s office,” said Mr Winters, adding,

“It is a collective failing to resource the inquest system and that really is the direct cause of these inquests having to be adjourned.”

He said they would be pressing Stormont’s justice department for more resources to allow an inquest to go ahead.

A sister of one of the murdered men, Karen Armstrong, said the lack of resources was “a political problem” and vowed to “ fight until we get another date and they have to make sure there are enough coroners in Northern Ireland to deal with ours and many other cases.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said he would be asking Justice Minister David Ford to ensure the matter was referred to the relevant authorities so that “action can be taken as soon as possible”.

“Justice has been denied for almost 40 years and it is totally unacceptable that this inquest should be delayed further due to the unavailability of a coroner,” he said.

“This was one of the most shocking and cruel events of the Troubles and the inquest must be treated with the seriousness this crime merits.”

A Department of Justice spokesman said: “Officials are actively working to ensure that all necessary resources are provided for the conduct of inquests in Northern Ireland.

“There are currently three full-time coroners in Northern Ireland. In addition, one High Court judge and one County Court judge have also been appointed as coroners.”