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Former soldier, now, 75, 'may not have killed unarmed man'





  • Dennis Hutchings, 75, is in court for attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham
  • Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, shot dead by an Army patrol in 1974
  • Hutchings chased him across a field and fired his gun three times, a court heard
  • Defence argue it was lawful as Cunningham was seen as a threat to the patrol

By James Dunn For Mailonline

Published: 16:01 EDT, 20 March 2017 | Updated: 16:01 EDT, 20 March 2017

A British soldier accused of shooting and killing an unarmed man fleeing from an Army patrol in Northern Ireland may not have been the shooter, a court heard. 

Dennis Hutchings, now 75, has appeared in court accused of the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham, who was 27 when he was shot dead in June 1974.

Mr Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was killed as he fled an Army patrol close to Benburb, a village on the border between counties Armagh and Tyrone.

Dennis Hutchings, now 75, has appeared in court in Northern Ireland accused of the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham, 27, in Northern Ireland in 1974 Dennis Hutchings, now 75, has appeared in court in Northern Ireland accused of the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham, 27, in Northern Ireland in 1974

Dennis Hutchings, now 75, has appeared in court in Northern Ireland accused of the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham, 27, in Northern Ireland in 1974

A prosecution lawyer told a preliminary inquiry at Armagh Magistrates' Court that Hutchings chased Mr Cunningham across a field and fired his weapon three times.

He said it was possible that it was Hutchings who shot Mr Cunningham, but added it was 'equally possible' the fatal shots were fired by a second man, referred to as Soldier B.

The court heard that Mr Cunningham was shot at least twice, with one bullet hitting him in the back as he fled.

'This was an innocent, unarmed man shot and killed by soldiers. He was shot through his back at a range of 90 metres,' the prosecutor said.

John-Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, had been chased across the field and shot in the back  John-Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, had been chased across the field and shot in the back 

John-Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, had been chased across the field and shot in the back 

'Clearly the defendant followed (Mr Cunningham) into the field. John-Pat Cunningham was running away.

'John-Pat Cunningham did not pose any threat that required him to be shot and killed. There was no legitimate reason for the defendant to fire his weapon.

'The evidence presents the picture of an unexplained, repeated firing at an innocent, vulnerable man running away from the soldiers.'

A defence lawyer said Hutchings acted lawfully at all times and Mr Cunningham had posed a threat. He said the Army patrol thought Mr Cunningham was in possession of a concealed weapon.

The lawyer said: 'Mr Hutchings was on lawful duty that day charged with keeping the peace.

'We know that Mr Cunningham was acting suspiciously. We know that Mr Cunningham failed to obey a lawful order to stop.

'All we know is that the patrol stopped a man who was acting suspiciously. They thought he had a concealed weapon. He failed to follow orders to halt. He was shot.' 

Hutchings (pictured, left) and his defence team argue that the shooting was lawful as Cunningham was seen as a threat to the patrol Hutchings (pictured, left) and his defence team argue that the shooting was lawful as Cunningham was seen as a threat to the patrol

Hutchings (pictured, left) and his defence team argue that the shooting was lawful as Cunningham was seen as a threat to the patrol

A retired member of the Royal Military Police told the court he seized Hutchings' self-loading rifle after the shooting because the defendant told him it had been used.

Alan Mews told the court he had received a radio call from the operational unit and asked to attend the scene. He said he entered a field with a local priest.

Hutchings, outside Armagh Courthouse, where he is accused of attempted murder Hutchings, outside Armagh Courthouse, where he is accused of attempted murder

Hutchings, outside Armagh Courthouse, where he is accused of attempted murder

'I walked 200 yards then I saw the body of John-Pat Cunningham. I had a conversation with the priest then returned to the vehicle.

'I spoke to the soldiers involved and took possession of a self-loading rifle along with a magazine from Colour Sergeant Hutchings.'

The judge is to decide on Tuesday if Hutchings will be returned for Crown Court trial.

Earlier the court was told that Hutchings is suffering ill health.

Requesting breaks throughout proceedings, a defence lawyer said: 'He is not a well man. He has kidney failure. In a matter of months he will be on dialysis. He will be in hospital for five hours every day.'

Hutchings, who appeared to be in good spirits as he entered court on Monday, was charged after a fresh investigation in 2013, launched after a request from the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland.

Hutchings, from Cawsand, Torpoint, Cornwall, is also facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Cunningham. 

 


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