Kingsmill massacre an ‘overtly sectarian attack by IRA’, coroner rules | Northern Ireland

The shooting dead of 10 Protestant workers at Kingsmill in Northern Ireland in 1976 was an “overtly sectarian attack by the IRA”, a coroner has ruled.

Nearly eight years after the inquest opened, Brian Sherrard delivered his findings in Belfast on Friday into the Troubles killings in County Armagh.

The inquest heard the workers’ minibus was ambushed outside the village of Kingsmill on their way home.

Those onboard were asked their religion and the only Catholic was ordered to run away. The killers forced the 11 remaining men to line up outside the van before opening fire. Alan Black, who was shot a number of times, was the sole survivor.

The shootings were claimed by a little-known republican paramilitary group, used as a front for the on-ceasefire IRA. No one has ever been convicted.

Sherrard said the “glaring omission” in the proceedings had been the absence of any evidence from those who caused the attack. He said: “Unlike other legacy inquests which have examined the actions of the state in directly causing death, those responsible for the deaths at Kingsmill have not given an account either personally or through any organisation or any political party.

“Numerous calls to assist and provide answers were met with silence.

“Accordingly the inquest did not receive disclosure from any individual concerned in the attack, nor their organisation, nor their political representatives although expert evidence was given that records may well exist.”

He said there had been no recognition from the perpetrators of the “utter wrongness” of the Kingsmill attack.

Decades after the shooting, police found a match between a palm print discovered on the suspected Kingsmill getaway vehicle and a suspect in the attack. One man was questioned by detectives in 2016 but not charged.

Sherrard said Ireland’s Garda Síochána was in possession of the palm print in 1976 but the police in Northern Ireland never asked for it.

The coroner said if the suspect had been questioned in the immediate aftermath of the attack and confronted with the fingerprint link to the van, it might have helped progress the investigation.

Survivor Alan Black speaks to the media outside Laganside courts in Belfast after the conclusion of the inquest on Friday. Photograph: Oliver McVeigh/PA

He outlined various errors and omissions in the police investigation after the shooting, but said those should be viewed in the context of the time and there should be no attempt to shift the blame away from those responsible for the murders.

He said there could be “little doubt” that the likely suspects were known to the security forces at the time.

In his conclusions, the coroner described the attack as “sophisticated and complex” and involving at least 12 IRA men. Sherrard also dismissed any suggestion that perpetrators were not pursued in order to protect an IRA informant, describing it as “unhelpful conspiracy theorising”.

Two individuals identified as suspects in the Kingsmill attack were later given “comfort letters” issued by the UK government to “on the run” republican suspects during the peace process.

Sherrard said the “OTR letters” had not impeded the inquest as no firm evidence connecting the individuals to the shootings had ever emerged.

The attack at Kingsmill was claimed by a group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force.

Sherrard outlined extensive ballistics evidence to Belfast coroner’s court linking the weapons used at Kingsmill to a series of attacks carried out by the IRA. He said the “unassailable” evidence showed that the guns fired at Kingsmill were the “exclusive property” of the IRA.

The families of a victim of the Kingsmill massacre and the only survivor said the inquest into the killings had not answered their questions and called for a public inquiry.

John McConville died in the attack on 5 January 1976, while Black was seriously injured.

A joint statement from the McConville and Black families said: “At the start of the inquest eight years ago we were full of hope that the many difficult questions that have burdened us surrounding John’s murder and that of his colleagues and the attempted murder of Alan Black would be answered.

“However, as we progressed through the inquest our questions have not been answered and our concerns have grown.”

Speaking outside Belfast coroner’s court, Black described the inquest as a “Band-Aid”. He said: “I am so disappointed with this inquest.”


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