Palm print on vehicle in Kingsmills killings belongs to suspect, inquest told

Alan Black, the sole survivor of the massacre
Alan Black, the sole survivor of the massacre

Police believe a palm print found on a vehicle used during the 1976 Kingsmill massacre belongs to a suspect arrested last month, a coroner’s court has been told.

The claim was made after a lawyer acting for the families of some of those killed called for clarity on the contentious issue during a preliminary hearing at Belfast’s Laganside court complex.

Barrister Peter Coll, representing the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), said: “The person arrested is the person that police believe is the palm print.”

The arrest of a 59-year-old man in Newry, Co Down, came two months after police announced the major forensic breakthrough in the long unsolved case.

Mr Coll told Belfast Coroner’s Court: “I can confirm that on August 5 detectives from the PSNI’s legacy investigation branch investigating Kingsmill arrested a 59-year-old man on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

“He was arrested and questioned on the palm print that there have been some discussions about in the past.

“He was released on August 6 pending a report to the PPS (Public Prosecution Service).

“The matter rests with the PPS at the minute.”

Ten Protestant workmen were gunned down when their minibus was ambushed in rural south Armagh on January 5, 1976 in an attack seen as a reprisal for loyalist killings in the same area.

Those on board were asked their religion and the only Catholic was ordered to run away.

The killers, who had been hidden in the hedges, forced the rest of the textile factory workers to line up outside the van before opening fire.

Only Alan Black survived despite being hit 18 times.

The getaway vehicle was left abandoned across the Irish border and the palm print was discovered later.

Following re-examination by forensic scientists in May, a potential match was found on the police’s database - a week after a fresh inquest into the incident opened.

Details of exactly how the discovery was made are expected to be given during private briefings between police and the Kingsmill families next week, the court heard.

Judge Brian Sherrard, who is presiding over the new inquest, said he had written to Northern Ireland’s director of public prosecutions regarding the recent arrest.

He said: “I would be optimistic of a relatively quick decision by the PPS but nothing has appeared as yet.”

The coroner also stressed he was keen for the case to progress.

He said: “I am particularly anxious to get the evidence heard in this case.”

Meanwhile, it also emerged that Judge Sherrard has been asked to consider calling author Toby Harnden as a witness.

The inquest has been adjourned until Monday when two days have been set aside to deal with sensitive material in the high-profile case.