OTR question over Kingsmill suspects

Published Wednesday, 09 April 2014
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The government is being asked to disclose whether secret letters were sent to suspects believed to have been involved in the Kingsmill killings.

OTR question over Kingsmill suspects
Ten Protestant workmen were killed in the 1976 Kingsmills massacre. (© UTV)

Ten Protestant workmen were taken from a bus and shot dead near Bessbrook in south Armagh on 5 January 1976 while on their way home.

The only Catholic worker was ordered away from the scene, before his work colleagues were lined up and made reveal their religion before being fatally shot.

No-one has ever been brought to justice over the atrocity, which was never claimed by the IRA but was attributed to members of the organisation by a Historical Enquiries Team probe.

John Leckey, Northern Ireland's senior coroner, has said he will write to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to request further information after a relative of one of the victims raised concerns that suspected perpetrators of the atrocity may have been included in the 'on-the-runs' scheme.

The controversial scheme - in which some 200 republicans were sent letters from the Westminster government saying they were no longer wanted - came to light in February and is now being investigated by a judge.

At a preliminary hearing of the inquest into Kingsmill, John Leckey on Wednesday said: "I would like a substantive response sooner rather than later."

A lawyer for Beatrice Worton, whose son Kenneth was killed, criticised the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott for refusing to say if Kingsmill suspects were part of the OTR scheme.

Barrister Neil Rafferty said the outcome of a previous cold case review by the HET had become more troubling in the wake of the recent OTR revelations - including findings that seven suspects were identified by police in the wake of the shootings, but their efforts to arrest and question them were frustrated by the fact they resided across the border in the Republic of Ireland.

He told Mr Leckey at Belfast's Coroner's Court: "That raises very, very grave concerns on the part of Mrs Worton that some of these suspects may well be in receipt of comfort letters."

Details of letters sent to 'on-the-runs' detailing whether or not they were wanted by police for any crimes emerged in February when such a letter - sent in error - caused a trial to collapse.

John Downey, accused of carrying out the 1982 Hyde Park bombing which killed four soldiers, walked free from the Old Bailey because he had been assured that he was not a wanted man.

The 62-year-old from Co Donegal, who denied all charges against him, had received a letter in 2007.

An inquiry led by Lady Justice Hallett was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the revelations and is one of a number of investigations looking into the OTR scheme.

© UTV News
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