The family of an Army veteran who died while on trial over a Troubles shooting has called on prosecutors to ‘unreservedly apologise’ for bringing charges amid claims police lost key evidence.
Lawyers acting for great-great-grandfather Dennis Hutchings, who died aged 80 in October, have filed a formal complaint to police and Northern Ireland’s prosecution service insisting he should never have been prosecuted.
John Pat Cunningham (27), was shot to death in Benturb in County Tyrone on June 24, 1974.
Prosecutors claimed Mr Hutchings and a serviceman known as Soldier B – now dead – both fired their weapons, but they could not prove who fired the fatal shots. The Life Guards former staff sergeant was then charged with attempted murder.
Dennis Hutchings, an 80-year-old Army veteran, was killed after he caught Covid-19 in the middle of his controversial trial. This happened almost fifty years ago.
As he sat in the crown court dock of Belfast, with his service medals on his chest, this month Mr Hutchings maintained his dignity.
Hutchings, who had contracted Covid, was brought to hospital last night by ambulance after complaining of struggling to breath. Hutchings wearing a dress uniform at Knightsbridge Barracks 1978 (Right).
John Pat Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning difficulties, was shot dead during an Army operation near the village of Benburb on June 15, 1974. Hutchings claimed that only warning shots were fired into the air.
In evidence presented to the court shortly before Mr Hutchings passed away in Belfast, the trial heard that Soldier B had fired ‘tracer’ rounds – which have a small pyrotechnic charge – and Mr Hutchings had not. This evidence, though now lost, would have caused chemical residue to be left on any field dressings used at that time.
According to his legal team, this means that investigators may have been able to determine which bullets struck Mr Cunningham. The complaint says: ‘If the police had lost the key evidence by which this could be determined, that should have been disclosed and the case withdrawn.’
Last night Mr Hutchings’ partner Kim Devonshire said his family is ‘dedicated to proving Dennis innocent’. Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service said they were ‘confident proceedings against Mr Hutchings, including the disclosure of evidence, were dealt with appropriately’.
According to a police spokesperson, it is inappropriate for them to make any comment.