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17 Feb 2014
Alan Black, pictured at today’s hearing, was shot 18 times
A man who survived an IRA massacre of ten Protestant workmen believes state agents may have been involved in the attack, a coroner’s court has heard.
A lawyer for Alan Black made the claim as preliminary proceedings got under way ahead of a new inquest into the Kingsmill 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 shot.
Mr Black survived, despite being shot 18 times. He was the only survivor.
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 committed the attack.
The ten 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, has since died.
The IRA never admitted responsibility for the murders but an investigation by the police’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) three years ago found that members of the republican organisation did perpetrate the attack, motivated purely by sectarianism.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin, ordered the fresh inquest last year after a long campaign by bereaved relatives.
By Gemma Murray
17 February 2014
Memorial Wall in memory of all those who lost their lives in the Kingsmills Massacre.
Families of Kingsmills victims will today attend Belfast inquest court for a preliminary hearing into the deaths of 10 men killed in an horrific roadside shooting.
Sole survivor of the massacre, Alan Black, said he is “very relieved” that it has finally got to this stage. He said the inquest into the deaths is “long, long overdue”.
The first inquest into the atrocity was held in 1977. No evidence was heard and an “open verdict” was recorded.
In June 2011, a HET report brushed aside all excuses that the IRA had not been responsible and said the murders had been “pure sectarianism” and “appalling savagery” which had been planned for some considerable time before being carried out.
Mr Black, who still suffers from the injuries he received during the shooting, said of today’s preliminary hearing : “This is a giant first step and I never thought I would see this day coming, not for a long long time. None of this would have happened without John McConville’s sisters. They led the way in this. All of this is down to their perseverance and determination to get to the truth of the whole thing.”
Karen Armstong, 56, whose big brother John McConville was murdered, said she started to push for the inquest independently “more than a year ago”.
“So we contacted the attorney general and corresponded with him for a couple of months. I am the oldest sister, having lost our parents, so I felt we could not go through the rest of my life not doing something,” she said yesterday.
“Even though we have this hearing tomorrow it is still very difficult for us as a family to have to face up to listening to the hard facts that may come out. Obviously tomorrow it is a preliminary hearing and we are not sure what the outcome of that will be.”
Mrs Armstrong said her family “loved my brother John so much and had such respect for him”. “John was 20, the oldest, and would have been 58-years-old now,” she added.
UUP MLA Danny Kennedy, who has campaigned for the reopening of the Kingsmills inquest, added: “I expect the inquest to be formerly opened tomorrow morning and the coroner will indicate the information he needs to proceed.
“The inquest has been pursued by all the families. I am pleased we have got to this stage that the inquest is being reopened. It has been a struggle and a battle for all of the families over the 38 years since the dreadful events of Kingsmills, and it is a landmark step in the quest for maximum justice. I hope to provide whatever support I can.”
Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer has also been heavily involved in helping Kingsmills families fight for a fresh inquest and justice.
“Monday’s preliminary hearing is just the first step in the process of addressing that unacceptable situation,” he said.
“It must also be remembered the Kingsmills massacre is linked to numerous other murders in south Armagh so this inquest could be an extremely significant process indeed.”
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was murdered in the atrocity, said: “We are so thankful it has got this far. We all called for an inquest, and we are here now.”
On January 5, 1976, just after 5pm, the Kingsmills massacre took place in south Armagh.
Gunmen stopped 12 workmen travelling home to Bessbrook from a textile factory in a red minibus, lined them up against the side of the road and shot them.
One Catholic workman was pulled from the line-up and asked to flee the scene. Then the gunmen opened fire.
One of the men – Alan Black – was shot 18 times, but survived. He is now the sole survivor of the atrocity.
The men who were murdered on the roadside were: John Bryans; Robert Chambers; Reginald Chapman; Walter Chapman; Robert Freeburn; Joseph Lemmon; John McConville; James McWhirter; Robert Samuel Walker; and Kenneth Worton.