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Kingsmill was genocide and the killers should be tried for war crimes, families say

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday World)

A new report into the infamous Kingsmill massacre is set to publicly blame the IRA for the atrocity.

The Provos have always denied involvement in the 1976 attack in which 10 Protestant workers were taken from their minibus and shot dead by the side of the road.

The murders were claimed by the 'South Armagh Republican Action Force'. However, a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report is due to reveal that the Provos have lied about their involvement for the past 35 years and that the 12 gunmen were IRA members.

The Kingsmill victims' families want the killers "named and shamed". Sources told the Sunday World that the HET is considering identifying some.

The IRA figure behind the massacre is widely believed to be a man who lives just across the border in Republic and is a major suspect in the Omagh bomb.

The victims were riddled with 136 bullets. The report will give the horrific details of how they were lined up beside their van and shot from two feet. Some fell on top of each other. The gunmen then went round the dying men and shot them again in the head as they lay on the ground.

The HET report will be given to the Kingsmill victims' families next week. It is set to link the weapons used in the atrocity to around 100 shootings, many of which were claimed by the IRA.

One of the weapons was found five months later in the possession of Raymond McCreesh who went on to die in the 1981 hunger-strike. It was seized after a gun battle between the IRA and British Army.

One gun had previously been used in September 1975 in the attack on Tullyvallen Orange hall in which five Protestants were killed. It was also used the month before in Whitecross to murder UDR man James Frazer whose son Willie now runs IRA victims' group Fair.

Willie Frazer said: "I can't comment on the HET report until it's published."

No-one was ever charged with Kingsmill. The report will damn the RUC investigation into the massacre as incompetent.

The workers were travelling from Glenanne textile factory to their home in Bessbrook when the gunmen struck. The 'South Armagh Republican Action Force' said it was in direct retaliation for the murder of six Catholics in two separate gun attacks 24 hours earlier.

The UVF's Glenanne gang had burst into the Reaveys home in Whitecross and shot dead brothers John (24), Brian (22) and Anthony (17). Ten minutes later, other gang members killed Barry O'Dowd (24), his brother Declan (19) and their uncle Joe (61) as they took part in a post-New Year sing-song in their Gilford home.

However, sources said the HET had evidence that Kingsmill was planned before the Reavey and O'Dowd murders. Loyalists had carried out other sectarian killings in previous months and the IRA had decided to dramatically retaliate if the UVF struck again.

Alan Black, the sole survivor of Kingsmill, recalls that fateful night on January 5 1976 as the men headed home: "We were bantering about whether Manchester United or Leeds would challenge Liverpool to win the English first division.

"Then, a man with a torch waved down our minibus on a deserted part of the road." Eleven other men with combat jackets and blackened faces jumped out from hedging. The workers were ordered out of the minibus. One gunman asked for any Catholic among them to step forward.

Fearing they'd been stopped by loyalists and the only Catholic worker, Richard Hughes, was to be killed – his Protestant colleague, Walter Chapman, whispered to Hughes to stay silent.

But one of the gunmen recognised Hughes and ordered him to "clear off down the road". Then, the shooting started. "After the initial screams, there was silence," Alan says. "It was all over in a minute". Despite being hit 18 times, Alan miraculously survived.

Colin Worton's brother Kenneth (24) did not: "I was only 15 when he was killed and I'd worshipped him," Colin says. "Kenneth left a wife and two wee daughters. Raquel, who was only three, asked me, 'Will you be my daddy now?'

"Kenneth had no face left, it was blown away in the gunfire. You wouldn't do that to a dog. In war, both sides are meant to be evenly matched. But these men had nothing to fight with except their lunch boxes and flasks.

"I don't know how the killers lived with themselves. I used to think they had to be on drugs, how else could you do that to other human beings? Kingsmill did stop Catholics being killed in South Armagh but that doesn't justify it. The gunmen had no right to play God."

Colin has never been able to ask Alan Black about his brother's last moments: "I know it's wrong, but I resented that Alan survived and Kenneth didn't."

Kenneth's mother, 83-year-old Beatrice Worton, says: "For him to be shot on the road like an animal was very hard to accept. My only comfort is it was better my son was murdered, than he was a murderer."

None of the Kingsmill victims were security force members, let alone paramilitaries. While loyalist sectarian killings in south Armagh ceased for some time afterwards, the atrocity caused one South Armagh Provisional to resign in disgust.

May Quinn's brother, Robert Walker (46), was driving the Glenanne minibus. "You couldn't find a better man. Robert was always helping people – fixing a neighbour's tractor or cutting a hedge.

"I want his killers named and shamed by the HET. Kingsmill was genocide and the men who did it should be put on trial for war crimes in the Hague, just like that Serbian leader."

Cecil Chambers' youngest brother Robert (19) also died: "The policeman at the morgue wouldn't let me in to see him. Another relative went instead. He said it was like a butcher's shop with bodies lying on the floor like slabs of meat.

"Robert was the only one us still living at home. His death effectively killed my parents. For years, my mother kept laying his place at the table and cooking his dinner. My father never left the grave. He was there morning, noon and night."

Cecil says Sadie Reavey, whose three sons had been murdered by the Glenanne gang 24 hours earlier, visited his parents to offer her condolences: "I don't know where she found the strength. My mother lost one son but half Mrs Reavey's family had been wiped out."

In a statement, the Reaveys told Sunday World: "The Kingsmill attack wasn't carried out in our name. We sincerely hope the families receive justice in the HET report."

Jean Lemmon was waiting for her husband Joe (49) to come home from work when she heard the ambulances racing to Kingsmill that night: "When I found out there was a shooting and one survivor, like all the women I prayed it was my man who had lived.

"But Joe never came home. Our daughter Shirley was getting married. For days, the white envelopes came through the letterbox. Some were accepting wedding invitations, others were sympathy cards.

"My two grand-daughters were to be flower-girls at the wedding. They had their dresses ready to show Joe that night but he never got to see them. I'm 88-years-old now and I still miss Joe. There's an emptiness in my heart that has never been filled."

June 13, 2011

This article appeared in the June 12, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.

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