The sole survivor of a sectarian massacre by the IRA in Northern Ireland lay beneath his dying colleagues as they moaned and battled for life, an inquest has been told.
Alan Black said the noise was deafening as a blast of gunfire killed 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmills in 1976. Another man – a Catholic – cowered in a nearby field after he was ordered to flee.
As the victims lay there the commander of the republican unit said: “Finish them off.”
More than five weeks have been set aside for the coroner’s inquiry into the Kingsmills shooting, which police described as the most senseless and savage killing of the early Troubles.
The textile factory workers were ambushed as they travelled along the Whitecross to Bessbrook road in rural south Armagh on January 5 1976 – one of the darkest years of the Troubles.
Father-of-three Alan Black was shot several times.
Outside court he said he wanted the “unvarnished truth”.
“We are relieved and apprehensive. We have fought long and hard for this review. Obstacles were put in our way, thanks to these people here we have gotten over each one.
“This is a red letter day for us to finally get our day in court,” he said.
The men’s minibus was stopped and those on board asked their religion by the gunmen.
The armed men, who were hidden in the hedges, ordered them to line up outside the van then opened fire.
The 10 men who died were John Bryans, Robert Chambers, Reginald Chapman, Walter Chapman, Robert Freeburn, Joseph Lemmon, John McConville, James McWhirter, Robert Samuel Walker and Kenneth Worton.
Mr Black’s statement was read out by barrister Sean Doran during the inquest. He said the noise of the shooting was “deafening” as he fell on his face with another man collapsing across his legs.
He could hear the moaning and groaning of his workmates as they lay dying, he said.
A police report at the time read to the coroner said: “What happened then is perhaps the most savage and senseless single outrage in the present campaign. Fortunately it has not yet been paralleled.
“It resulted in 10 completely innocent workmen losing their lives and an 11th badly injured. One man escaped only because of his religion.”
Richard Hughes, the man who was ordered to flee, recalled the armed men asking which one was the Roman Catholic. His Protestant colleagues indicated he should not move, thinking they were protecting him.
However, one IRA men knew him and pulled him out of the line-up.
A phone call was made to the News Letter from the Wander Inn pub in Newry claiming responsibility in the name of the unknown ‘South Armagh Reaction Force’.
The caller said the killings had been in revenge for UVF murders of the Reavey family in Whitecross and the O’Dowd family in Lurgan the day before.
However, the Historical Enquiries Team found the IRA was behind the attack, and that it must have been planned much further in advance than the killings of the previous day; the UVF murders were merely the “catalyst” for the bloodshed.
The IRA was supposedly on ceasefire at the time, but HET found that ballistics records showed the weapons all belonged to the IRA, and branded the attack “sectarian savagery”.
The inquest was ordered by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC.
The first inquest was held shortly after the killings and was a very “limited exercise”, Mr Doran told the coroner’s court in Belfast.
Mr Larkin ordered the new hearing after the HET found members of the IRA were involved.
He said the coroner could establish whether the Provisional IRA was involved and pursue information recently given by Mr Black about the English accent of the armed unit’s commander.
The inquest is also expected to examine whether controversial British Army soldier Robert Nairac was involved, although HET concluded he was not in the country at the time.
Fresh evidence has also emerged since the original inquest after a minibus driver said he saw a masked gunman along a road two miles from the scene.
Mr Doran said 63 people were suspected of some involvement, although the quality of the intelligence varied.
A total of 11 weapons were used at Kingsmills. Nine of them have been linked to 37 murders, 22 attempted murders and 19 non-fatal shootings, the lawyer told the coroner.
Coroner Brian Sherrard yesterday repeated his call for anyone involved in the shootings or with information to come forward to his office.