Families of those killed in the Kingsmills massacre have found it “a bitter pill” that the inquest into the 10 killings has been adjourned for two weeks while police investigate a new lead.
Ten Protestant civilians were gunned down by the IRA as they travelled home from work in a minibus near Kingsmills in south Armagh in 1976 amid spiralling sectarian violence.
The legacy inquest into the atrocity was only in its second week of hearings last week when the PSNI disclosed that a relatively junior fingerprint expert, prompted by media coverage of the hearings, checked a palm print from the getaway vehicle and found a match.
At the inquest hearing yesterday coroner Brian Sherrard said that while he understood the families’ confidence in the police investigation had been “shaken”, he felt it would be better to adjourn hearings for two weeks while the police investigate the lead.
Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was one of those murdered, said: “It has to be disappointing because these [upcoming witnesses] were the ones that we really wanted to hear from – the PSNI, Historical Enquiries Team and Garda. But there is very little we can do about it.
“The families have to accept it because it is out of our control. The coroner sees the bigger picture. It is a bitter pill for the families to swallow at this late stage.
“We had been getting more information about what really happened at this inquest than we have heard for 40 years.”
Police are unable to give further information at this stage, he said.
“The timescale of what happens now, nobody knows. We are just left in limbo,” added Mr Worton.
The sole survivor of the shootings, Alan Black, was initially sceptical about the new lead but has now amended his view.
“I am inclined to let the police get on with it,” he said. “They seem to be a lot more genuine than I first thought.”
Yesterday saw harrowing post-mortem evidence on the injuries to each of the murdered men.
During the lunch break, some of the families were giving media interviews outside the court when two men directed sectarian abuse at them.
Mr Worton said they shouted “up the Provos”.
His wife Barbara approached one of the men afterwards.
She said: “I just asked him, did he realise we were coming from an inquest where our families had been murdered? I said, how would you like it had it have been yours?”
She said that he apologised and said he had not realised who they were.
Raquel Brush, daughter of Kenneth Worton, said she was “disgusted” by the abuse.
“After what we had taken in at the inquest...you were trying to come to terms with that and then getting the likes of that [abuse] shouted at you,” she said.
Former Northern Ireland state pathologist Professor Jack Crane yesterday drew parallels between the Kingsmills massacre and atrocities he witnessed in Bosnia and Kosovo, where he worked as a senior advisor to the UN.
It was “not uncommon” for victims there to be lined up against vans and shot in the back before being finished off with a further volley while they lay on the ground, he said.
“Some people would say this is to make sure they are dead and, in my experience, this is not uncommon. It is similar to what I have seen in the former Yugoslavia.”
The pathologist said he believed the first volley of shots is usually aimed at the back to ensure the gunmen do not have to look their victims in the face. “It dehumanises the person you are about to kill,” he said.