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British Army veteran on trial over Troubles killing dies after catching Covid-19

Dennis Hutchings denied attempting to murder 27-year-old John Pat Cunningham, who was fatally shot in the back as he ran from an Army patrol near Benburb, County Tyrone, in 1974

Dennis Hutchings at Laganside Courts, Belfast, earlier this month

A British Army veteran on trial over a fatal shooting during the Northern Ireland Troubles has died after contracting Covid.

Dennis Hutchings, 80, a former member of the Life Guards Regiment from Cornwall, denied attempting to murder and cause grievous bodily harm to John Pat Cunningham.

Mr Cunningham, 27, who had a learning difficulty, was fatally shot in the back as he ran from an Army patrol near Benburb, County Tyrone, in 1974.

The trial of Mr Hutchings, who was suffering from kidney disease, had earlier been adjourned for three weeks after he tested positive for coronavirus.

The non-jury trial had been sitting at Belfast Crown Court for three days a week to allow him to receive dialysis treatment.



Hutchings (pictured) was on trial over the shooting of John Pat Cunningham
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Image:

Getty Images)






John Pat Cunningham was fatally shot in the back as he ran from an Army patrol
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Image:

PA)




It is understood that he died on Monday, PA news reports. His death was confirmed by an Army veterans’ group on behalf of his family.

Defence barrister James Lewis QC had informed the court that Mr Hutchings’ condition had been confirmed by a PCR test on Saturday.

He said his client was “not well… as one would expect with his other comorbidities of renal failure and cardiac malfunction”.

Mr Justice O’Hara, presiding over the non-jury trial, said: “Things have obviously deteriorated over the weekend with his positive test for Covid.”

Adjourning the trial until Monday 8 November, he added: “It is simply not possible to continue to trial in his absence.”

In a statement, the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement said: “It is with regret and with the permission of his son John Hutchings that we sadly report that our brave friend Regiment Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings passed away in the Mater Hospital this evening.”



Dennis Hutchings, a former member of the Life Guards Regiment from Cornwall, denied attempting to murder and cause grievous bodily harm
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Image:

PA)




Mr Hutchings was the first veteran charged with an offence during the Troubles and had denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

In 1974, a 27-year-old Mr Cunningham was shot dead as he ran away from an Army patrol across a field near Benburb.

People who knew him said he had the mental age of a child and was known to have a deep fear of soldiers.

Following Mr Hutchings’ death, Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson called it “desperately sad news”, but said that “serious questions” needed to be answered.

“Whilst understanding the desire of the Cunningham family for justice, we have consistently challenged those in legal authority who insisted that Dennis stand trial again,” he said in a statement.

“He was an 80-year-old veteran, in ill-health on dialysis and there was a lack of compelling new evidence.







“There now stands serious questions around those who made the decision that Dennis should stand trial once more. He was honourable. He wanted to clear his name again but was dragged to a court and hounded until his death.

“This is a sad indictment on those who want to rewrite history but also demands serious questions of the Public Prosecution Service about how this trial was deemed to be in the public interest.”

In a statement, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister said: “The needless dragging of an 80-year-old soldier, Dennis Hutchings, through the courts has had a very sad end with the passing of Mr Hutchings this evening.

“The strain on this man was cruel, with him requiring regular dialysis, while being brought to Belfast to face a trial of dubious provenance.

“My thoughts and prayers tonight are with his family and friends who may understandably feel that what he was put through contributed to his decline.”



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