Kingsmills victims’ anger over inquest delay

The Kingsmills families have told of their anger that the long-awaited inquest into the 1976 atrocity could be postponed indefinitely as there is no money to pay for a coroner.

And there is still no date in sight for the release of Garda files on the suspects, despite promises by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the first batch were to be released at least a week ago.

Kingsmills survivor Alan Black and Karen Armstrong, whose brother died in the atrocity, outside Laganside courts today after news that the inquest into the murders is under threat due to lack of coroners

Kingsmills survivor Alan Black and Karen Armstrong, whose brother died in the atrocity, outside Laganside courts today after news that the inquest into the murders is under threat due to lack of coroners

The inquest was to open on June 1. However, senior coroner John Leckey said yesterday that the date would be missed due to the volume of information – and that there are no finances to hire his replacement after his imminent retirement.

Alan Black, sole survivor of the IRA attack in which 10 men died, said he was “very disappointed and really angry”.

He accused Justice Minister David Ford of “using the same tactic” as he believes had been used to stymie a Police Ombudsman probe into the atrocity – “withholding money”.

Karen Armstrong, whose brother was killed in the attack, added that “so many people down through the years in positions [of authority] have turned their backs and have made excuses and they are still doing that. And we certainly will do our best to make sure that will not continue to happen.”

The inquest is to examine an IRA ambush of a minibus carrying workmen at Kingsmills in south Armagh in 1976.

Northern Ireland’s senior coroner John Leckey told the court yesterday; “At the minute there are two coroners. Myself, I am almost at the exit door, leaving one in post, and it is a matter for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to resolve.

“I am not in a position to hold the Kingsmills inquest because I will not be in office at the relevant time. There is no coroner able to take up these inquests.”

He said the Department of Justice and the PSNI have been made aware of the issue and that the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister had replied that there were no resources immediately available.

The coroner suggested that relatives and their legal representatives may wish to write letters requesting resources be made available.

Other inquests are also under threat, including that of loyalist murder victim Seamus Dillon from Co Tyrone.

Neil Rafferty QC and Fiona Doherty QC, acting for some of the Kingsmills victims, both affirmed that they would be lobbying for a new coroner to be hired.

Solicitor Kevin Winters said after the hearing that he would launch a judicial review.

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy demanded action from the Justice Minister.

“The news that the inquest into the murder of 10 workmen at Kingsmill in 1976 has been delayed because there is no coroner to hear it, is the latest in a long line of blows to the families of the dead men and the survivor Mr Alan Black,” he said.

“Justice has been denied for almost 40 years and it is totally unacceptable that this Inquest should be delayed further due to the unavailability of a coroner. I am calling upon the Justice Minister to take steps to ensure this matter is urgently referred to the relevant authorities so that action can be taken as soon as possible.

“This was one of the most shocking and cruel events of the Troubles and the Inquest must be treated with the seriousness this crime merits.”

But a Department of Justice spokesman responded that it is “very mindful of the interests of families who are awaiting inquests into the deaths of loved ones”.

He added: “Officials are actively working to ensure that all necessary resources are provided for the conduct of inquests in Northern Ireland. This includes the availability of adequate numbers of coroners and support staff. There are currently three full-time coroners in Northern Ireland. In addition, one High Court judge and one County Court judge have also been appointed as coroners.”

The Irish state solicitor acting for the Garda had also written to the coroner saying they are still reviewing their files relating to Kingsmills and could not give an estimated date as to when they would be ready to release them.

Mr Kenny met Kingsmills families in Bessbrook a month ago, where he promised the first batch of files would be released in two weeks.

However, a month later the Garda solicitor says he is still reviewing the files and can give no release date; it is understood that suspects behind the attack were based in Co Louth and stole a minibus from that area for the operation.

Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer, who attended court yesterday, cancelled a major victims’ parade in Dublin planned for March 28 on the strength of promises from the Irish Department of Justice that the release of Garda files on Kingsmills was imminent.

Mr Frazer said: “What is going on in this country when we have no coroner for this inquest – especially when we look at how many councillors, MLAs and MPs we can afford?

“The coroner has assured us this delay is no fault of the Irish government. It better not be.”

Meanwhile, counsel for the inquest Sean Doran QC said a large volume of relevant material had been produced including two ballistics reports linking weapons in the case to other atrocities, including an attack on Tullyvallen Orange Hall.

Mr Rafferty QC replied that he welcomed the fact that leads produced by the families had generated so much relevant material.