Kingsmills inquest: I may not have long to live, says widow pleading for answers

Jean Lemmon is bed-ridden and unable to attend inquest hearings
Jean Lemmon is bed-ridden and unable to attend inquest hearings

An elderly woman who was left widowed by the Kingsmills massacre has delivered an impassioned plea for some kind of resolution to the case before she dies.

The letter from Jean Lemmon, 93, was read out to coroner Brian Sherrard on Wednesday afternoon at the latest instalment in the inquest into the 1976 south Armagh atrocity.

A memorial to the Kingsmills dead in Bessbrook

A memorial to the Kingsmills dead in Bessbrook

Much of the inquest has been disrupted due to a forensic breakthrough regarding the criminal probe into the bloodbath.

During Wednesday’s relatively short session lawyer Neil Rafferty QC, representing the families of many of the victims, rose to his feet and read Mrs Lemmon’s letter.

It said: “I am writing to ask you not to delay this inquest.

“I have suffered for over 40 years trying to get some justice or recognition in regards to what happened on that terrible night that wicked gunmen took my husband [Joseph Lemmon]...

“At the moment I am not in good health. I have been in and out of hospital, and although none of us know how long we have left on this Earth, I am no longer fit to leave my bed. If I was, I would be down in that court every day.

“I have heard great reports about yourself sir, and how respectful you have been to the wishes of the families.

“I would just like to emphasise that some of us don’t have that long left on this Earth and I would certainly like to see this inquest over before I leave to be with the Lord.”

Ultimately, her letter said: “I’d very much like to see those responsible held accountable before I pass on.”

She added that she “understands police must be given appropriate time to investigate new leads”. However, she asked that this not be “open-ended”.

Mr Rafferty said the letter threw the reality of the situation which relatives are facing into “very, very sharp focus”.

The coroner told the court he is “very mindful” of the observations she had made, adding that he must also keep in mind that there is a live police investigation under way.

The coroner is now expected to get a written update about the police investigation by August 1, which will help inform the progress of the inquest.

However, at present it looks like it could be September before hearings will reconvene.

In the meantime, the coroner is also expected to receive a briefing about the history of the forensic breakthrough which was responsible for casting the inquest into such disarray.

This could happen today. It is also thought this information could be shared with the families of the victims, too.

Outside court, Joy Hull, the 55-year-old granddaughter of massacre victim James McWhirter, said dealing with the delays surrounding the case was “stressful”, noting that relatives have been regularly travelling up to hearings but seeing little progress.

“[It’s] very difficult,” said the Larne woman, who was 15 when the massacre happened.

“Because you’re just waiting and waiting – and waiting again. And even at that, when it convenes again, there’s a chance we’ll still not get to hear what we want to hear, which are answers.”

Major breakthrough

The Kingsmills massacre saw a gang ambush a van full of unarmed workmen on January 5, 1976, fatally shooting 10 of them at close range. All the dead were Protestant.

On May 31 this year, the PSNI told an inquest a potential suspect had been identified from a palm print on a getaway vehicle.

The discovery added new life to the moribund criminal investigation, and has disrupted the ongoing inquest into the deaths.

Police later admitted that they should have matched the print in 2010.

The massacre is widely understood to have been the work of the IRA, but has never been claimed by the group.