Northern Ireland

Kingsmills inquest: First man on scene saw 'bullet casings being collected'

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Media captionGerry McKeown came to the aid of Kingsmills victim Alan Black 40 years ago

A retired schoolteacher has told the Kingsmills inquest that he saw a local farmer collecting empty bullet casings from the road.

Gerry McKeown, who was first on the scene, says he has never understood why the police did not question him.

He got to tell his story for the first time to the Historical Enquires Team in 2010.

Ten Protestant workers were taken from their minibus and shot dead by IRA gunmen in January 1976.

Mr McKeown fought back tears as he recalled how he had said a prayer out loud for the victims including the only survivor Alan Black.

Image caption Ten men died after gunmen ambushed their minibus in 1976

Asked about his religion, Mr McKeown, a Catholic, said: "That night, in a ditch with Alan Black, we were praying to the one God and we had the one hope; that he [Alan] would pull through."

Mr McKeown said the horror of what he saw that night has never left him.

He said: "For years, any time I passed that spot, I would put the boot down. I was stopping for no-one."

Image caption The gunmen asked the workers about their religion, before telling the one Catholic man on the bus to leave.

Alan Black and Gerry McKeown had not met in the intervening years and on Thursday there was an emotional reunion.

As Mr McKeown finished his evidence, Mr Black rose from his seat and crossed the public gallery with his hand outstretched.

The two men shook hands.

Outside court they told the BBC that they hoped their actions and experience represented a victory over the sectarianism behind those and other murders.

The inquest is continuing.

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