A senior coroner is to write to the Secretary of State to ask if any of the seven suspects relating to the Kingsmills massacre are in receipt of on the run comfort letters.
John Leckey made the decision yesterday during a preliminary hearing in Belfast Coroner’s Court for an inquest into the shooting of the ten Protestant civilians by the IRA in 1976 in south Armagh.
“I would like a substantive response sooner rather than later,” Mr Leckey said.
Barrister Neil Rafferty, acting for Beatrice Worton whose son Kenneth was killed, said the Kingsmills families had raised the matter with Theresa Villiers personally but have not had any answers.
He said a number of the findings in the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report on the massacre had become more troubling in light of the OTR revelations.
The report said that “Suspect C” had been stopped at Heathrow in 2002. At that time he was “still wanted for questioning,” Mr Rafferty said, “but was allowed to continue on his journey”.
“He wasn’t arrested and the families’ questions on this were met without any explanation whatsoever from HET,” he said. “Mrs Worton is very concerned that he may have been in receipt of a comfort letter.”
He wrote to the Crown Solicitor’s Office in February asking for Chief Constable Matt Baggott to address her concerns. Mr Baggott replied that it would “not be appropriate” to comment when the OTR probe ordered by PM David Cameron is ongoing.
But Mr Rafferty accused Mr Baggott of “hiding behind” the inquiry, insisting it was not a reason to prevent the PSNI disclosing whether Kingsmills suspects had OTR letters. He said Mr Cameron’s inquiry will not disclose this information.
Mr Leckey said he was “very conscious” that he had a duty to “allay rumour and suspicion” around the deaths and said he would therefore write to the NIO and Ms Villiers asking for comment.
Ken Boyd, representing the PSNI, said there were concerns that Public Interest Immunity issues, described by Mr Leckey as “national security” matters, could arise.
Mr Rafferty noted that the John Downey judgment, which sparked the OTR row last month, showed that details of that case had been run past the Attorney General and DPP. He suggested to Mr Leckey that something similar could have happened in the Kingsmills case.
Mr Boyd said HET “has not found any record” about Heathrow and is therefore “not able to comment on whether there was an opportunity to arrest Suspect C”.
Mystery over seven suspects
A barrister for the Kingsmills families yesterday noted several findings from the HET report;
:: Seven suspects were identified in the wake of the shootings, but efforts to arrest and question them were frustrated by the fact they resided across the border.
:: In 2002, one of the suspects, who was still wanted, was stopped by authorities travelling through Heathrow but was allowed to proceed.
:: That of the seven initial suspects, only one was still being sought.
:: No explanation was given by HET as to why the other six are no longer wanted.