Man arrested in Newry over sectarian Kingsmill massacre

The bullet riddled minibus near Whitecross in South Armagh where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead
The bullet riddled minibus near Whitecross in South Armagh where 10 Protestant workmen were shot dead

A man has been arrested on suspicion of the sectarian murders of 10 Protestant workmen in one of the most notorious outrages of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The 59-year-old suspect was detained in Newry, Co Down, by detectives investigating the mass shooting at Kingsmill, County Armagh, 40 years ago.

The development in the unsolved case came two months after police announced a major forensic breakthrough.

At the end of May, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) revealed a potential match had been made to a palm print left on a getaway van used by the republican paramilitary killers.

The sole survivor of the attack, Alan Black, who was shot 18 times, described the arrest as a "bolt from the blue".

The suspect is being questioned on suspicion of the 10 murders and Mr Black's attempted murder.

The IRA was widely blamed for what has become known as the Kingsmill massacre.

The factory workers were ambushed as they travelled along the Whitecross to Bessbrook road in rural south Armagh on January 5 1976 in an attack seen as a reprisal for a series of loyalist killings in the same area in the days beforehand.

The men's minibus was stopped by a man waving a red light and those on board were asked their religion by a camouflaged gunman with an English accent. The workers had initially mistaken the man for a soldier.

The only Catholic workman was ordered to run away.

The killers, who had been hidden in the hedges, ordered the remaining 11 Protestant men to line up outside the van and then opened fire.

A van used by the gunmen was later found abandoned across the Irish border. The palm print was discovered on that vehicle.

It was re-examined by forensic scientists this year, only days after a long-delayed inquest into the deaths got under way in Belfast.

A lawyer for the PSNI told stunned relatives attending the hearing that a potential match on the police's database had been made.

It emerged that a forensic scientist had asked to run fresh tests on the print after reading media coverage about the opening of the high-profile inquest.

Some relatives expressed concern about the timing of the PSNI announcement about the palm print, raising concerns it would sidetrack the inquest.

Mr Black said he was struggling to take in news of the arrest.

"I don't really know what to think to be honest," he said.

"I am still trying to take it in.

"For 40 years the police were not interested in Kingsmill but this, I suppose, is a development at least.

"We will just have to wait and see what happens and whether any charges are brought against this person."

Colin Worton, whose brother Kenneth was killed, said: "We were disillusioned when we were told at the inquest about the discovery of the palm print after 40 years.

"But I believe this has to be a positive development.

"We will have to wait and see the justice system take its course."

Karen Armstrong, who lost her brother John McConville, said: "We will have to wait and see how it all pans out."

Stormont Assembly member Danny Kennedy, a prominent supporter of the Kingsmill families' quest for justice, described the arrest as a "potentially positive development".

"The sectarian massacre of 10 Protestant workmen by the IRA remains a stain on south Armagh," said the Ulster Unionist.

"The families and sole survivor have waited 40 years in their pursuit of maximum truth and justice for this brutal and barbaric crime."

Democratic Unionist MLA William Irwin said the Kingsmill families deserved justice.

"Forty years have passed since one of the worst sectarian atrocities of The Troubles," he said.

"There is obviously an active criminal case which must be taken forward and I would hope that can be taken forward swiftly."