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Ex-soldier faces 1974 case charge

Published 25/04/2015

A 73-year-old former soldier has been charged in connection with the death of John Pat Cunningham more than 40 years ago (Pat Finucane Centre/PA)
A 73-year-old former soldier has been charged in connection with the death of John Pat Cunningham more than 40 years ago (Pat Finucane Centre/PA)

A 73-year-old former soldier has appeared in court in Northern Ireland charged with the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties over 40 years ago.

Dennis Hutchings, from New Road, Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, was released on bail after appearing at Omagh Magistrates' Court.

John-Pat Cunningham, 27, was shot dead by an Army patrol in June 1974.

White-haired Hutchings stood solemnly in the dock flanked by a police officer with his arms straight down by his side.

He spoke to confirm his identity, date of birth and replied "I do" when asked if he understood the charge against him.

Hutchings was arrested in England on Tuesday and taken to Northern Ireland for questioning by officers investigating legacy Troubles-related deaths.

A detective from the Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) serious crime branch told the court he believed he could connect him to the charge.

Defence solicitor Stephen Clarke requested that reporting restrictions preventing publication of the defendant's name be imposed by the court under human-rights legislation.

The "nature and circumstances" of the offence could raise "emotive issues", the solicitor claimed.

Rejecting the application, District Judge Nigel Broderick said: "This is an offence which allegedly occurred some time ago."

Releasing Hutchings on bail of £500, the judge also said the principle of open justice was well established in Northern Ireland.

"I am told that Article Two may be engaged but I am not satisfied that there are any justifiable concerns and I must deal with the case as presented," the judge said.

"I am not minded to make reporting restrictions."

The court was told there were no objections to bail subject to four conditions.

Hutchings was ordered to surrender his passport and not to contact with any other witnesses.

Mr Cunningham, who had the mental age of a child between six and 10, had a fear of men in uniform and was running away from an Army patrol when he was killed close to Benburb, a village on the border between counties Armagh and Tyrone.

The Government apologised for his death in 2013.

The PSNI's legacy investigations branch re-opened the case following a re-examination of the available evidence.

Bespectacled Hutchings, who was charged by the PSNI late last night, appeared in court wearing navy jeans, trainers, a grey and white-flecked woollen jumper with a navy body-warmer-type jacket.

He left the court through a side door.

Hutchings was excused from appearing at the next court hearing in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, on June 3.

In a statement released through the Ministry of Defence, the retired soldier's family requested privacy. The statement said: "The family requests media to respect their privacy".

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