IRA blamed for 'sectarian slaughter' of 10 at Kingsmill
THE PROVISIONAL IRA carried out the “purely sectarian” and “calculated slaughter” of 10 Protestants in south Armagh 35 years ago in an attack that became infamously known as the “Kingsmill Massacre”, the Historical Enquiries Team has found.
Bereaved relatives of the 10 victims of the January 1976 attack gathered in Bessbrook town hall, not far from Kingsmill, yesterday morning to consider the report outlining how their loved ones were murdered.
The Protestant textile workers were murdered after their bus bringing them home from work was waved down by a man flashing a light at Kingsmill. When they got off the bus, they were lined up by at least 11 gunmen.
The one Catholic among them was identified and told to run away. The IRA gang then gunned down the men. Ten died while one man, Alan Black, survived even though he was struck 18 times.
The inquiry team was dismissive of the claim at the time that the murders were the work of the South Armagh Republican Action Force. It said such was the widespread revulsion that the IRA attempted to distance itself from the attack by using this cover-name.
No one has ever been convicted of the killings, although the report makes clear that one of the chief suspects is a former IRA member, subsequently a senior dissident republican. He was held as being one of those responsible for the Real IRA Omagh bombing of 1998, in which 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins, were murdered.
Raymond McCreesh, who died on hunger strike in 1981, is named as one of those linked to an Armalite rifle used in an attempted murder attack on security personnel in June 1976, and which was also used in the Kingsmill Massacre just six months earlier.
Ballistic studies found that guns used in the attack were linked to 37 murders, 22 attempted murders, 19 non-fatal shootings and 11 finds of spent cartridges between 1974 and 1989.
The attack took place the day after the UVF carried out sectarian attacks on two Catholic families, also in south Armagh, that claimed the lives of three members of the Reavey and three members of the O’Dowd families.
While the murders were in “direct response” to these killings, the attack was pre-planned. “The murderous attacks on the Reavey and O’Dowd families were simply the catalyst for the premeditated and calculated slaughter of these innocent and defenceless men,” it added.
“The motive was purely sectarian, with each man being murdered purely because he was a Protestant,” the report found.
It added: “There is some intelligence that the Provisional IRA unit responsible was not well-disposed towards central co-ordination but there is no excuse in that. These dreadful murders were carried out by the Provisional IRA and none other.
“This was appalling savagery on a gross scale, which brings utter shame on those responsible and disgrace on any cause they professed to support.”
There was one Catholic on the bus, the late Richard Hughes. In previous testimony he recounted how his Protestant colleagues “bravely tried to shield his identity”, fearing he would be the victim. But he was recognised as a Catholic and told to run down the road.
The report described how the victims were ordered to “tighten up” so that they could be gunned to death more easily and how after the first shootings the order was given to “finish them off”.
Up to 150 spent bullet cases, bullets and bullet fragments were recovered from the scene.
“It would be difficult to overstate the horror of this scene,” the report said. “Honest, ordinary men, they were harmless and utterly defenceless.” The report acknowledged that the RUC faced huge work pressure at the time but said additional resources should have been deployed for an investigation of such scale.
There was a list of 63 names suggested as being involved and it was clear the killers were among this group. “The police wanted to conduct arrests and interviews but the men used the proximity of the Border to avoid arrest by remaining resident in the Republic. There were no grounds to seek their extradition. There was good co-operation with the Irish authorities, and An Garda Síochána arrested and interviewed a number of suspects but no evidence was found.”
The ten victims were: Kenneth Worton (24); Joseph Lemmon (49); Reginald Chapman (29); Walter Chapman (29); Robert Samuel Walker (46); James McWhirter (63); Robert Chambers (18); John McConville (20); John Bryans (50); and Robert Freeburn (56).
Murder Inquiry: No Names
THERE HAS been a call for an inquiry in the Kingsmill murders to establish the full facts surrounding the atrocity. Karen Armstrong, sister of victim John McConville, in a statement on behalf of all the families spoke of the sense of alarm at the treatment of the murders by the original RUC investigation. Far from answering questions about the investigation, she said the Historical Enquiries Team report highlighted “a degree of either incompetence and lack of direction and motivation or, more alarmingly, a deliberate attempt to suppress evidence for whatever purpose”. She added: “The seemingly desultory investigation would constitute a gross neglect of duty for these men.”
She said that many of the most notorious outrageous incidents of the Troubles had been investigated and have had widespread media interest.
“The Kingsmill Massacre is no exception and due to the clear neglect of duty by everyone involved, and that includes the government as well, the surviving families would expect nothing less than a full inquiry in an attempt to discover why such unacceptable neglect and incompetence occurred and to alleviate fears that these men were merely sacrificial lambs in a dirty war.”
Ethel Grant, a relative of victims Reggie and Walter Chapman, recalled: “I loved those wee boys . . . They haven’t named [the murderers]. I thought that’s what was coming out of the report.”
Accompanying the relatives were politicians from the main unionist parties and the SDLP including DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and colleague William Irwin; Ulster Unionist Stormont Minister Danny Kennedy, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister and SDLP Assembly member Dominic Bradley.
Sinn Féin said in a statement last night: “What happened in Kingsmills was wrong and should not have happened and Sinn Féin would obviously extend our sympathy to the families.
“This report and the many questions that it raises highlights the urgent need to address the issue of legacy,” it added.
- DAN KEENAN