Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Kingsmill inquest to proceed despite families’ concerns

An inquest into the killing of ten Protestant workmen at Kingsmill, near Whitecross more than 40 years ago is to go ahead next week, despite concerns expressed by some of the bereaved families.

The inquest is scheduled to begin next Monday 23rd May and is expected to last around five weeks.  However there have been calls for it to be postponed as it emerged that more than 1,300 pages of police and army intelligence material have still not been handed over.

A lawyer for one of the bereaved families told a preliminary hearing at Belfast Laganside Court of the concerns: “The families are anxious that it is done right. They have waited 40 years,” Fiona Doherty QC, representing the family of John McConville, said.

Ms Doherty said the families wanted an opportunity to read and assess the significance of the sensitive document.

“We know there are at least 1,300 pages of this material,” she said.  “It is not my experience in this forum that an inquest has been commenced when that amount of material is outstanding or is disclosed a day or two beforehand.  A lot of this material is dense and requires extensive analysis.

“Regrettably we do not think it is sustainable to go ahead as scheduled.”

Counsel for the coroner, Sean Doran QC, told the court the outstanding intelligence documentation would not impact on the early evidence but the inquest, which is sitting without a jury, has the flexibility to recall witnesses if necessary.

Responding, presiding Judge Brian Sherrard said he was content to proceed but offered assurances he would look sympathetically at any requests for additional time.

The factory workers were returning home to Bessbrook when they were ambushed on the Kingsmill Road near Whitecross on 5th January 1976.  The only Catholic in the vehicle, Richard Hughes, was ordered to flee before his workmates were shot.  Alan Black (72) was the sole survivor of the attack, despite being shot 18 times.

An original inquest in 1978 lasted just 30 minutes and recorded an open verdict, while in 2013, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin, ordered a new inquest following a long campaign for justice by Mr Black and bereaved relatives.

Mr Black says it was vital this inquest is conducted correctly rather than quickly.

“This is the last chance that we have to get to the truth about what happened at Kingsmill. So it is very, very important that we get everything right.  If that takes a bit more time, then so be it.  Once this closes, Kingsmill will not be mentioned again except in an historical context. It has to be done right,” he said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy welcomed the inquest adding that he hoped it would get to the truth.

“As someone who lives in Bessbrook and who has campaigned alongside the victims’ families for many years, I know how frustrating this process has been,” he said.

“I pay tribute to the families of the victims, the sole survivor Alan Black and all those who have campaigned for justice in this case. I hope that the inquest makes available the maximum amount of information on what was one of the most horrendous acts of sectarian terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA during its campaign of violence.”