Seriously ill former Troubles soldier, 80, could now avoid trial

Seriously ill former Troubles soldier, 80, with only months to live could now avoid October trial

  • Dennis Hutchings is accused of attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham 
  • Mr Cunningham had learning difficulties and was shot after failing to stop   
  • Hutchings is charged with attempted murder, rather than murder, as prosecutors cannot prove who fired the fatal shot in County Tyrone in 1974
  • A seriously ill former Troubles soldier set to stand trial in October over a disputed shooting could yet be saved by the Government’s proposals, his lawyer suggested last night.

    Dennis Hutchings, 80, is accused of attempted murder in relation to the death of John Pat Cunningham in County Tyrone in 1974.

    Mr Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot after failing to stop in response to soldiers’ requests.

    Mr Hutchings is charged with attempted murder, rather than murder, as prosecutors cannot prove who fired the fatal shot.

    The former staff sergeant in the Life Guards has always maintained he fired warning shots into the air.

    Dennis Hutchings (pictured in 1978), 80, is accused of attempted murder in relation to the death of John Pat Cunningham in County Tyrone in 1974

    Pictured: Dennis Hutchings's  pictured at a protest in 2019

     Dennis Hutchings (pictured in 1978), 80, is accused of attempted murder in relation to the death of John Pat Cunningham in County Tyrone in 1974 

    Mr Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot after failing to stop in response to soldiers' requests. Pictured: British soldiers and a armoured saracen vehicle patrol on the streets of Crossmaglen, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in September 1981

    Mr Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot after failing to stop in response to soldiers’ requests. Pictured: British soldiers and a armoured saracen vehicle patrol on the streets of Crossmaglen, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in September 1981

    It is understood the proposed statute of limitations will not assist those whose cases are currently before the courts as the Government will not interfere with the judiciary.

    As well as Mr Hutchings, another soldier has been charged with manslaughter in relation to a shooting in Northern Ireland in 1988.

    Convicted IRA member John Downey, named in a High Court ruling as participating in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, has been charged with the murder of two soldiers in 1972. His case is also likely to proceed. But last night, Mr Hutchings’ lawyer Philip Barden said his team would argue for a stay of proceedings for any legislation protecting veterans to come into effect.

    ‘We would argue it would be unfair to continue to prosecute Mr Hutchings when a law comes in to bar other prosecutions and would invite the Public Prosecution Service [of Northern Ireland] to drop the prosecution in this case,’ he said.

    Mr Hutchings has vowed to clear his name in court. Mr Cunningham’s family have said he should face trial.

    British Army Troops deployed on the streets to combat rioting on the Falls Road, West Belfast, in 1976

    British Army Troops deployed on the streets to combat rioting on the Falls Road, West Belfast, in 1976

    Bomb damage in Market Street, Omagh, in 1998

    Bomb damage in Market Street, Omagh, in 1998 

    Demonstrators walk past Downing Street in Whitehall, London as part of a 'Rolling Thunder' protest

    Demonstrators walk past Downing Street in Whitehall, London as part of a ‘Rolling Thunder’ protest

    The pensioner, of Cornwall, requires kidney dialysis three times each week and has heart problems. Doctors say he may only have months to live.

    Last night Mr Hutchings said: ‘I was arrested six years ago and have been dragged over coals ever since. I was told there was new evidence but this has never, ever been produced.

    ‘I think this legislation might have come too late for me but hopefully it will help the other ex-servicemen who have cases hanging over them.

    ‘The Government have been spineless. We were sent to Northern Ireland to do a job then abandoned.’