Kingsmills inquest: Relatives of victims on the stand

Beatrice Worton (mother of Kenneth) arrives with other Kingsmills relatives for the first day of the inquest in Belfast
Beatrice Worton (mother of Kenneth) arrives with other Kingsmills relatives for the first day of the inquest in Belfast

William Chambers told the Kingsmills inquest that began in Belfast on Monday his brother Robert Chambers was 18 when he died at Kingsmills and had been “a happy lad who liked serving his time with [survivor] Alan Black”.

Neil Rafferty QC put it to him that Bessbrook – where the victims lived – was founded by the pacifist Quakers, who were “friends unto all men”.

This was the spirit in which the Protestant community responded to the killings, he said.

Mr Chambers replied: “That is the sort of people in Bessbrook. Quakers don’t go to war. Bessbrook is like that.”

Karen Armstrong said her brother John McConville had many friends from both sides of the community and was accepted to train as a missionary only days after he was killed.

“John was so innocent and had so much time for people,” she said. So many people told her he had “touched their lives just at the right time”.

Tom Bryan was 16 when his father John Bryans was killed. “I never really got to know him,” he said. As his mother died previously he was left an orphan and was taken in by his great aunt and great uncle.

Gary Bradley said his grandfather James McWhirter, was “hard working, very kind and very generous”. His killing was “the most extraordinarily traumatic episode” which left his mother unable to attend the inquest hearing.

Robert James Freeburn, nephew of Robert Freeburn, said that his uncle used to baby-sit for him. He said of the 10 men killed: “I knew them all”.

Meanwhile, a senior Army officer in south Armagh told the mother of a victim that he had been ordered not to go on patrol the night of the killing, it is alleged.

Karen Armstrong told the inquest that a commanding officer made the claim to her mother at the Bessbrook Mill base, where her mother worked in the kitchen between 1980 and 1984.

He was quite aware who her mother was and “knew exactly where it happened” she said.

He “took mum aside” and was “quite adamant they were told not to go out on patrol that night” she told the inquest.

She told this to the Historical Enquiries Team, but Peter Coll QC for the Ministry of Defence noted that HET concluded there had been no prior intelligence of the attack.