Family of Northern Ireland veteran who died in Troubles shooting trial demand apology

Family of Northern Ireland veteran who died in Troubles shooting trial demand apology for ‘lost’ evidence

  • The family of an army veteran who died in a Troubles trial has called on prosecutors to “apologise unconditionally.”
  • Northern Ireland veteran Dennis Hutchings died in October at age 80 halfway through his trial for attempted murder
  • He was charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham, 27, in Co Tyrone in 1974


The family of an army veteran who died in trial for a Troubles shooting has called on prosecutors to “apologize unconditionally” for filing charges after police have lost important evidence.

Lawyers representing great-great-grandfather Dennis Hutchings, who died in October at the age of 80, have made a formal complaint to police and the Northern Ireland prosecutor’s office, insisting he should never have been prosecuted.

Hutchings was charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham, 27, who was shot dead in the village of Benturb, County Tyrone, in June 1974.

Prosecutors alleged that Mr Hutchings and a soldier known as Private B – now dead – both fired their weapons, but they could not prove who fired the fatal shots. This led to the former Life Guards sergeant only being charged with attempted murder.

Army veteran Dennis Hutchings, 80, (pictured) died after catching Covid-19 halfway through his controversial trial for a fatal Troubles shooting nearly 50 years ago

Sitting in a Crown Court dock in Belfast this month, service medals pinned to his chest, Mr Hutchings somehow maintained his dignified stoicism

Sitting in a Crown Court dock in Belfast this month, service medals pinned to his chest, Mr Hutchings somehow maintained his dignified stoicism

Hutchings contracted Covid and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance last night after complaining he was having trouble breathing

Dennis Hutchings in dress uniform at Knightsbridge Barracks, 1978

Hutchings contracted Covid and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance last night after complaining that he was having trouble breathing. Hutchings in uniform at Knightsbridge Barracks, 1978 (right)

John Pat Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning disabilities, was shot and killed on June 15, 1974, during an army operation near the village of Benburb.  Hutchings claimed he fired only targeted warning shots into the air.

John Pat Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning disabilities, was shot and killed on June 15, 1974, during an army operation near the village of Benburb. Hutchings claimed he fired only targeted warning shots into the air.

Evidence presented to the court in Belfast shortly before Hutchings’ death revealed at trial that Private B had fired ‘tracer’ grenades – which carried a small pyrotechnic charge – which Mr Hutchings had not. These bullets would have left chemical residue on field bandages applied to wounds at the time, but this evidence is now believed to be lost.

His legal team has suggested this evidence means investigators could have determined which bullets killed Mr Cunningham. The indictment reads: “If the police had lost the key evidence to establish this, it should have been made public and the case dropped.”

Last night, Hutchings’ partner Kim Devonshire said his family is “dedicated to proving Dennis innocent”. The Northern Ireland Prosecutor’s Office said they are “trusted that the proceedings against Hutchings, including the disclosure of evidence, have been handled appropriately”.

A police spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment.

What is the timeline of the problems and the peace process in Northern Ireland?

Police officers and firefighters inspect damage caused by a bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998

Police officers and firefighters inspect damage caused by a bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998

August 1969

British government sends troops to Northern Ireland for the first time after three days of rioting in Catholic Londonderry.

January 30, 1972

On ‘Bloody Sunday’, 13 civilians are shot dead by the British army during a civil rights march in Londonderry.

March 1972

The Stormont government is dissolved and direct rule is imposed by London.

70s

The IRA begins its bloody campaign of bombings and assassinations in Britain.

Apr 1981

Bobby Sands, a Republican on hunger strike in Maze Prison, is elected to parliament. He dies a month later.

October 1984

An IRA bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party. conference

early 90s

Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communication was so secret that most ministers knew nothing about it.

Apr 1998

Tony Blair helps close the Good Friday Agreement, hailed as the end of the Troubles.

It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as Prime Minister.

2000s

With few exceptions, the peace process is holding up and republican and loyalist paramilitaries are decommissioning their weapons.

May 2011

The Queen and Prince Philip pay a state visit to Ireland, the first since George V’s 1911 tour.

In a hugely symbolic moment, the Queen is depicted shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader.

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