Belfast Telegraph

Ex-soldier in bid to have charges over 1974 killing ditched

By Ashleigh McDonald

A former soldier faces a further wait before learning whether he is to stand trial on charges linked to the death of a vulnerable man who was shot more than four decades ago.

A 'no bill' application was launched at Belfast Crown Court yesterday in the high-profile case involving former British Army soldier Dennis Hutchings in a bid to have the case dropped.

He is facing charges arising from the death of 27-year-old John-Pat Cunningham, who was shot in the back by the Army in a field on the outskirts of Benburb in June 1974.

During the hearing, Mr Cunningham was described as an innocent, vulnerable and unarmed man who had a fear of people in uniform, including soldiers, policemen and priests.

He was fatally wounded in a field on Carrickaness Road as he ran away from soldiers who stopped their Land Rover and followed him into the field.

A legal team for the 76-year-old former soldier, from New Road, Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, launched the application on the grounds there was no case for him to answer on charges of attempting to murder Mr Cunningham, and of attempting to cause him grievous bodily harm with intent.

James Lewis QC, representing the pensioner, said the case against his client was circumstantial, there was no forensic evidence, and most of the witnesses were dead. Mr Lewis also said it was up to the Crown to show the court and a jury that Hutchings intended to kill or seriously harm Mr Cunningham.

The application was made in front of Mr Justice Treacy.

After listening to submissions made on behalf of both the Crown and defence, Mr Justice Treacy said he wanted to give the matter "careful consideration" before determining whether or not Hutchings had a case to answer.

Prior to revealing he would give his ruling in due course, Mr Justice Treacy heard details surrounding the death of Mr Cunningham - including claims that Hutchings failed to follow the Army's rules of engagement by not issuing a proper warning to Mr Cunningham.

It has never been established who fired the fatal bullet that hit Mr Cunningham.

Mr Justice Treacy said he would give his ruling on the application at a later date.

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