Kingsmills: PSNI come clean on palm print

The Kingsmills memorial for the 10 murdered workmen in Bessbrook
The Kingsmills memorial for the 10 murdered workmen in Bessbrook

A fingerprint expert made a breakthrough in the 40-year-old Kingsmills massacre investigation on a whim last week after hearing about a palm print as the case was being discussed in the media.

The news yesterday caused astonishment, anger and suspicion among relatives of the 10 Protestant civilians who were cut down by the IRA in south Armagh 40 years ago on their way home from work.

Front Page of The News Letter Tuesday 6th Januray 1976. A full 40 years on, a forensics officer - acting on his own initiative after reading the coverage of the case - has made a major potential breakthrough.

Front Page of The News Letter Tuesday 6th Januray 1976. A full 40 years on, a forensics officer - acting on his own initiative after reading the coverage of the case - has made a major potential breakthrough.

The palm print in question was taken in 1976 from the getaway minibus and has been part of some seven or eight reviews of the case by police over the past four decades.

However, no match has ever been made with a suspect’s prints, despite repeated reviews and requests by families.

On Tuesday it was revealed during the inquest that a match had been found for the 1976 palm print, causing a mixture of anger and hope amongst relatives – and national headlines.

Yesterday in court Peter Coll QC, for the PSNI, explained how the breakthrough happened.

The bullet-riddled min-bus was 'a terrible, terrible scene', said witness John Moley

The bullet-riddled min-bus was 'a terrible, terrible scene', said witness John Moley

A fingerprint expert had heard media coverage of the issue from the inquest last week, he said.

“He used his initiative and asked his line manager if he could check the palm print.”

In doing so he obtained “an ID hit” which was checked by two other fingerprint experts – both of whom reached the same conclusions.

In doing so he obtained “an ID hit” which was checked by two other fingerprint experts – both of whom reached the same conclusions.

“It is being treated as a priority murder case and a senior investigating officer has been appointed to lead the investigation,” he said.

Lawyers for the families yesterday expressed cynicism and suspicion about the revelation – and fears that the long awaited inquest could be derailed.

They expressed mixed views on whether the inquest should proceed and effectively ignore the official criminal investigation now launched by the police – or whether a slightly more nuanced approach should be taken, which may hear the maximum amount of evidence that would not conflict with the police probe.

Mr Coll said it is difficult for the PSNI to give a timescale for the investigation but it is clear it will not be dealt with in a matter of days.

There would be no question of PSNI not providing regular progress updates to the families, he said – to the extent that these will not impact on their investigation.

It is accepted that the palm print had been investigated in the past with negative results, he said.

Mr Coll said he understands that the next of kin and public will have reasonable questions over how it could be that the examination in the past had not produced a match and that this could well fuel suspicions.

However, he said these concerns would likely now be addressed by investigations by the PSNI, other agencies and possibly the inquest itself.

Coroner Brian Sherrard said he had obligations to consider the feelings of the families, the community – and justice itself – before he could make a decision on the way forward.

He said he would consider the issues and discuss his conclusions at the next hearing on Wednesday.

Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was killed in the attack, told the News Letter after the hearing: “I would just like to thank the media for highlighting the palm print – otherwise this new lead may never have been uncovered.”

After the hearing, some of the families went to meet First Minister Arlene Foster at Stormont to air their concerns.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Foster said: “Whilst the reopening of the criminal investigation has raised questions in some minds about how this evidence has only come forward now, it does bring open the possibility that someone might finally be held responsible for this heinous crime.

“That hope of justice is something the Kingsmills families share with many others.

“I would hope that the investigation can now move swiftly and the families will at least see some level of justice served.”

Local DUP MLA William Irwin said: “Having attended the remembrance service in Bessbrook in January, I am glad the First Minister was able to meet with the families again today.

“There are obviously many mixed emotions following the events of the last few days, but it is important that we stand in solidarity with those who suffered so greatly and who have waited so long for justice.”

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said: “The PSNI needs to reassure the families that they are in full control of this investigation and that it will be carried out with rigour and professionalism.”

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