A fingerprint specialist who twice failed to match a suspect in the Kingsmills massacre to a palm print on the getaway vehicle has denied deliberately making the mistake to protect the suspect.
Ten Protestant workmen were shot by the IRA at Kingsmills in south Armagh as they drove home from work in a minibus in 1976.
A legacy inquest into the murders opened in May 2016 but was adjourned soon after when a PSNI fingerprint expert speculatively matched a palm print from the getaway vehicle to a suspect – 40 years after the murders.
The inquest was adjourned for eight months while police investigated, but the case was dropped as the vehicle could not be tied to the murder scene.
On Tuesday former PSNI fingerprint specialist Dennis Thompson told the inquest he could give no explanation as to why he had failed to match the prints when he compared them in 2010 and 2014.
The PSNI only acquired suspect S54’s palm print in 2010 when Mr Thompson, by then a civilian and the sole Historical Enquiries Team fingerprint specialist, requested it from the Garda.
Fiona Doherty QC, acting for the families and sole survivor Alan Black, asked Mr Thompson yesterday why he did not ask for a copy of the suspect S54’s palm print from Garda in 2009 when he first looked at the crime scene print. However, he could not give any explanation.
The families were “struggling” to understand, she said, how someone so competent could make such major mistakes. There was suspicion “as to whether there was another reason” she added.
Mr Thompson said forcefully: “I can assure you there was absolutely no other reason.” He added: “I can tell you before this court and the scriptures that I took my oath on, I can tell you ‘no’.”
Mr Thompson confirmed to Peter Coll QC, acting for the PSNI, that the computer system he worked on did not allow him to see the identity of the suspects he attempted to match to crime scene prints.
Mr Coll put it to him that there was a suggestion that he had been trying to protect S54.
Mr Thompson replied “absolutely not”, quickly adding that he had never done such a thing in his 34 years in the role.
He had been unaware the inquest was delayed by almost a year due to his errors, he said.
Sean Doran QC for the coroner said he had written to southern authorities to ask if they too had failed to make the match when they sent S54’s palm print to Mr Thompson in 2010.
Ex-RUC deputy chief inspector Samuel Ronald Mack said the Garda failed to respond to requests for help in locating Kingsmills suspects.
Having moved into the Armagh Newry and Banbridge area in 1986, he had been asked to review the Kingsmills shootings.
In a statement to the inquest, he said he asked the Garda for help in locating suspects, including S54, by phone and in writing but did not recall ever getting any response to either request.
He said there were no grounds for seeking warrants on extradition of suspects from the south and that all arrests of suspects in his area at that time were controlled by Special Branch.
It was counterproductive to make speculative arrests because it only revealed to suspects the extent of your knowledge, he added.