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Arrest given 'cautious welcome'

Published 21/04/2015

John Pat Cunningham was shot by the Army in a field in Benburb
John Pat Cunningham was shot by the Army in a field in Benburb

The family of a man with learning difficulties who was shot dead by the Army in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago have given a "cautious welcome" to the arrest of a retired British soldier.

But relatives of John Pat Cunningham insisted they still do not have confidence in the murder investigation being carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), claiming it is not sufficiently independent.

A 73-year-old former soldier was arrested in England this morning by detectives from the PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch.

He is being taken to Northern Ireland for questioning at the police's Serious Crime Suite in Antrim.

Mr Cunningham was 27, but had the mental age of a child between six and 10. He had a fear of men in uniform and was running away from an Army patrol when he was shot in a field near Benburb - a village close to the county border of Tyrone and Armagh - in June 1974.

The Government apologised for his death in 2013.

Victims campaign organisation the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) issued a statement on the family's behalf.

"Whilst family members have cautiously welcomed the arrest, they have asked the PFC to state categorically that they will only have confidence in an investigative process that is completely independent of the PSNI," said a PFC spokesman.

"Cunningham family members said in October 2013 that they wish to see all investigations into British Army killings, including that of John Pat, being investigated by an independent body."

The case was re-opened by the PSNI and a murder investigation started following a re-examination of the available evidence.

The PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch is a unit which examines historic cases from the Troubles.

It is carrying out that task until an independent investigatory body envisaged in last year's Stormont House political agreement is set up.

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