Kingsmills: IRA leaders said to target ‘prominent wealthy Protestants’

The hearse carrying Kingsmills victim Robert Freeburn drives past the scene of the massacre after his funeral in January 1976
The hearse carrying Kingsmills victim Robert Freeburn drives past the scene of the massacre after his funeral in January 1976

An intelligence report revealed at the Kingsmills Massacre inquest said that the IRA leadership advised south Armagh members they could target “prominent wealthy Protestants” in the aftermath of the attack.

The inquest has also heard that the chief suspect is linked to 46 murders and has been very active in dissident republican terrorism right up until current times.

Ten Protestant workmen were murdered in 1976 at January Kingsmills, south Armagh. The PSNI blames the IRA, which has never accepted responsibility.

Alan Kane QC acting for the families drew attention to an intelligence report which stated that between 1974 and 1976 prime suspect S91 (or suspect A) had been linked to 46 murders.

These include 22 civilians, a seven-year-old boy, 21 soldiers, two police officers and one PIRA member.

The court heard that after meeting the families in January 2012, ACC Drew Harris began a investigation which concluded that S91 was “still a prime individual” who was involved with dissidents.

PSNI intelligence officer J2 said weapons used in Kingsmills were “not active when he was in jail”. He noted S91 was arrested by the Garda and jailed in 1976, given five years in 1983 but released and deported in 1985, after which he “arrived home in Ireland”.

Fiona Doherty QC for the families told J2 there was a wealth of intelligence on suspects. “People may feel the dogs in the street know who was involved in this,” she said. “It is really not hard to say why that is said, is it?”. J2 agreed.

Peter Coll QC for the PSNI/MoD highlighted intelligence to J2 which appeared to minimise the role of the IRA Army Council in Kingsmills. J2 answered him: “We do not know if the attack was sanctioned by the higher IRA leadership.”

But another report said that the IRA leadership had told south Armagh members that “we agree with the 10 Protestants dying” at Kingsmills in retaliation for the shooting of Catholics – but should further shootings become necessary, to target part-time UDR or RUC officers or “prominent wealthy Protestants”.

The inquest also heard a report which noted that Sinn Fein’s response to Kingsmills had been to launch “a damage limitation” operation which consisted of calling for a further “peace talks initiative” with clergy.

One document listed 11 suspects named by a self-confessed IRA member. Mr Kane and J2 agreed that intelligence was adequate to arrest suspects for questioning and forensic tests.

However, J2 said he did not know whether the on-the-run letters scheme would preclude arrests based on old information.

Another PSNI officer may be brought in to address the question, the coroner said.