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Dennis Hutchings: Former soldier on trial over fatal shooting in Northern Ireland has died after contracting COVID

Written by on 18 October 2021

A British army veteran on trial for charges linked to a fatal shooting during the Northern Ireland Troubles has died after contracting coronavirus.

Dennis Hutchings, 80, a former member of the Life Guards Regiment from Cornwall, denied the attempted murder of 27-year-old John Pat Cunningham.

Mr Cunningham, who had a learning difficulty, was fatally shot in the back as he ran from an army patrol in the Tyrone village of Benburb in 1974.

The trial of the former soldier, who was suffering from kidney disease, had earlier been adjourned for three weeks after he tested positive for COVID-19.

John Pat Cunningham Image: John Pat Cunningham, who had a learning difficulty, was fatally shot in the back in 1974

Defence barrister James Lewis QC told Belfast Crown Court 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.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP said it was “desperately sad news” and that his party’s thoughts were with the Hutchings family.

“We have said all along that Dennis should never have been brought to trial again, not least because of his health but also a lack of compelling new evidence. There are serious questions to answer here,” he added.

Hutchings was the first veteran charged with an offence during the Troubles and became the face of protests against the historical prosecution of veterans.

The trial of two other veterans – Soldiers A and C – for the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann collapsed when some of the evidence was deemed inadmissible.

Charges against Soldier F – accused of two murders and five attempted murders of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry – were withdrawn for similar reasons.

The British government’s plan to introduce an amnesty, effectively ending historical prosecutions, has prompted fierce criticism from victims on all sides.