DUP denounces prosecution of army veteran who died of Covid | North Ireland
Serious questions need to be asked about the prosecution of an 80-year-old army veteran for a fatal shooting during the unrest in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party leader has said following the death of the former Covid soldier Monday night.
Dennis Hutchings, who had denied killing John Pat Cunningham, 27, in 1974, was three days away from his trial in Belfast when he contracted the virus. He had kidney disease and was on dialysis.
DUP chief Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “There are now serious questions surrounding those who have decided that Dennis should stand trial again. He was honorable. He wanted to clear his name again but was taken to court and hunted down to his death.
“This is a sad indictment for those who want to rewrite history, but it also poses serious questions to the prosecution as to how this trial was held in the public interest.”
Hutchings’ death has reopened controversy over the lawsuits the government proposes to end with new legislation.
Hutchings, of Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, denied the charges and had said he wanted to clear his name. Earlier this month, his lawyers said he brought a case alleging a violation of human rights law to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on the grounds that military veterans had been subjected to discriminatory treatment.
“It’s too late for me [not to face trial] but it is not too late for the government to do the right thing for all those veterans who served to keep the peace in Northern Ireland and who continue to live in fear of being knocked on the door.
“But if the government doesn’t act or listen to veterans and the British people, then I hope Strasbourg will,” Hutchings said at the time.
The DUP and the other major political parties are united in their opposition to the new laws which “would remove all legal remedies for innocent victims”, but had questioned the weight of the evidence to bring the veteran to justice.
“While understanding the Cunningham family’s desire for justice, we have consistently challenged those in legal authority who insisted that Dennis be tried again. He was an 80-year-old veteran in poor health on dialysis and lacked convincing new evidence. “
The court had heard that the prosecution had accepted that the case against Hutchings was largely circumstantial, as no forensic evidence to identify the bullets that hit Cunningham had been gathered.
However, the prosecutor said the shooting could “never be legal or justified” and that the 27-year-old was unarmed and did not pose a threat. He was an adult with learning difficulties and had “the spirit of a child,” the court said.
In a statement, Traditional Unionist Voice frontman Jim Allister said the charge was “unnecessary” and “cruel” with Hutchings “requiring regular dialysis, while being brought to Belfast to face a provenance trial doubtful “.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who campaigned against the legacy murder lawsuits and traveled to Belfast to support the ex-soldier, called the trial a “grotesque experience” for Hutchings.