Villiers ‘adamant Kingsmills inquest should still continue’

Willie Frazer pictured through a wave of umbrellas in the rain at a memorial service in Co Armagh in January this year, marking the 40th anniversary of the murder of 10 Protestant workmen

Willie Frazer pictured through a wave of umbrellas in the rain at a memorial service in Co Armagh in January this year, marking the 40th anniversary of the murder of 10 Protestant workmen

The Secretary of State is still keen to see the Kingsmills inquest press ahead as far as possible following the recent emergence of a new lead in the criminal investigation, it has been claimed.

On Friday afternoon, Theresa Villiers met with around 15 people involved with the inquest into the 1976 atrocity, including many relatives of the men who were killed.

Front Page of The News Letter, Tuesday Januray 6, 1976. 
The bullet riddled minibus in which the murdered workers were travelling stands at the side of the lonely country road where the massacre occurred outside Whitecross.

Front Page of The News Letter, Tuesday Januray 6, 1976. The bullet riddled minibus in which the murdered workers were travelling stands at the side of the lonely country road where the massacre occurred outside Whitecross.

Loyalist campaigner Willie Frazer gave his account of the meeting afterwards.

He said that as well as backing the idea of continuing the inquest, she also voiced surprise at the emergence of news that a palm print from the getaway vehicle had been matched to a suspect – and reassured them that, if the suspect has been given one of the infamous ‘on-the-run letters’, it will not protect them from prosecution.

Mr Frazer said: “She’s adamant that the inquest should go on as well – although it’s not her call.

“She was certainly making it known that she’d be keen to see it, given the circumstances of the families and the age of some of the people involved.”

The inquest was already under way in late May when a forensic officer, acting purely on his own initiative, ran a new check on the print.

It had been checked before, including in 2014, and before that in 2010 – but this time it was matched to a suspect.

The news threw the inquest into chaos because it meant there was fresh hope for the long-dormant police probe.

The inquest seeks to probe the circumstances of the massacre, but has no power to prosecute people or determine guilt.

It is unclear how far coroner Brian Sherrard will be able to proceed with the rest of his planned probe into the 10 victims’ deaths, given the renewed police investigation.

Mr Sherrard requested an update on the police’s progress with the case by August 1, before deciding the manner in which he might proceed.

Theresa Villiers herself had been “taken aback” to learn of the forensic breakthrough, claimed Mr Frazer.

During the meeting, Ms Villiers what would happen if the person identified by the print had received an on-the-run letter.

These letters caused a scandal when they came to light in 2014. They reassured republican fugitives that the police were not seeking them – letting them return to Northern Ireland and live openly.

Theresa Villiers has previously said that the letters did not guarantee that recipients will be immune from action if fresh evidence of wrongdoing comes to light.

Mr Frazer said Ms Villiers replied that even if the suspect does have such a letter, the palm print match “is new evidence, so his on-the-run letter will be no good to him”.

When contacted for its take on Friday’s gathering, the Northern Ireland Office said it does not comment on the content of private meetings.