Shocked families of the Kingsmills massacre victims have had their inquest adjourned prematurely after revelations that the Metropolitan Police have been called in to check a range of fingerprint errors.
The 10 Protestant civilians were murdered by the IRA in 1976 in south Armagh as they made their way home from work.
A palm print taken from the suspected getaway vehicle in 1976 was only matched to a suspect by chance when a PSNI forensic officer looked in to the matter following media coverage of the inquest in 2016.
The inquest had adjourned while police arrested Suspect S54 in south Armagh.
However, the prosecution failed when the PPS said they could not prove that the van the print was taken from had been at the scene of the crime.
The families were exasperated by the fact that decades had passed before the suspect was linked to the getaway vehicle.
Jeffrey Logan, head of the PSNI Fingerprint Bureau, told the inquest that although Garda took a palm print from S54 the year before Kingsmills, the PSNI only acquired it, upon request, in 2010.
It was confirmed at Friday’s hearing that a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) fingerprint expert, Dennis Thompson, then missed two opportunities to match the palm print with suspect S54 in 2010 and 2014.
However families were shocked when Mr Logan revealed that a live audit of the HET fingerprint officer’s work is now underway and has found further issues of concern.
The inquest heard the system on which Mr Thompson checked the palm print in 2010 and 2014 logged his work.
Following pressure from Alan Kane QC for the families, Michael Egan for the PSNI revealed: “We carried out a 10% dip sample and there were further errors found in that work.”
It was confirmed that the Metropolitan Police has been brought in to check the PSNI methodology.
Describing the news as “startling” Mr Kane said that “these matters need to be expedited and fully explained and they need to be made public”.
This, he said, was not only for the benefit of the people he represented, but for the general public’s interest in “dealing with legacy cases involving terrorism down through the years”.
After consulting with the families, their lawyers told the inquest they did not feel it was appropriate to continue questioning Mr Logan until they could clarify the issues.
Mr Logan is now to return in the autumn.
Earlier, Mr Logan had said two RUC fingerprint experts travelled to Garda headquarters shortly after the massacre in 1976 and lifted suspect S54’s palm print from the passenger door window of the getaway van. Gardai took S54’s palm print the year before, he said.
The coroner asked if the 1976 minibus examination had been a joint Garda-RUC forensic examination and if Gardai had retained a copy of the palm print from the vehicle; this would mean the Garda themselves could have linked the suspect to the minibus in 1976. But Mr Logan said the records did not say.
Earlier the coroner said the lack of Garda co-operation is a key problem.
“Obviously it is the Garda that is principally playing on my mind with regard where we go next,” he said.