Despite the Good Friday Agreement, where many convicted IRA terrorists were set free, a seventy five year old veteran will still stand trial over the shooting of IRA terrorist, John-Pat Cunningham despite a court ruling that the case be dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings, who lives in Cawsand, near Torpoint, is accused of the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties while he was serving in the Army.
In March, a judge said there was insufficient evidence to show that the great-grandfather, who served with the Life Guards for 26 years, had intended to kill John-Pat Cunningham in Northern Ireland in June 1974. The former soldier was told that he would instead stand trial for attempting to cause grievous bodily harm. But the attempted murder charge has now been reinstated by the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory. During a brief hearing at Belfast Crown Court on Friday, a judge also decided that that the trial would be held without a jury. Mr Cunningham, who had a mental age of between six and ten, reputedly had a fear of men in uniform and was running away from the patrol when he was shot dead close to Benburb, a village on the border between counties Armagh and Tyrone.
In March, District Judge Alan White ruled there was insufficient evidence to return Hutchings for trial for attempted murder. He said: “When considering the circumstances the soldiers found themselves in and the time they had to reach a decision, I can’t see that any reasonable jury properly directed could find beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to kill the deceased as opposed to causing him grievous bodily harm.” The judge also agreed to a defence request to alter Hutchings’ bail conditions to enable him to go on a cruise with his wife.
The decision to re-instate the attempted murder charge is said to have shocked Hutchings and his legal team. In March, the court heard Hutchings was in ill health. According to the Daily Mail, he has been given just two years to live.
Requesting breaks throughout proceedings, his 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 was charged after a fresh investigation in 2013, launched after a request from the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. A Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service spokesman said: ‘The prosecution can confirm that the indictment presented at the Crown Court in this case includes the charge of attempted murder.”As this case is currently before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further. All decisions are taken in strict accordance with the PPS Code for Prosecutors.’