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Prosecution of ex-soldier accused of 1974 attempted murder will go ahead

Published 10/11/2015

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

The prosecution of a former soldier accused of the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties over 40 years ago, will go ahead, a judge in Northern Ireland has heard.

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

A public prosecutor told Armagh Magistrates' Court that the case against Dennis Hutchings, 74, from New Road, Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, would proceed.

She told District Judge Paul Copeland: "It will proceed as a prosecution."

A preliminary inquiry had been scheduled for December 15 but the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said that date could no longer be met.

She added: "There is a target date and I am very mindful of that. That date cannot be met, however significant progress has been made."

The court also heard meetings have taken place between the PPS director Barra McGrory QC and senior police officers.

Hutchings was excused from appearing and his defence solicitor did not make any comment during the brief hearing.

Judge Copeland said the case would be mentioned again next month.

The judge said: "It is by consent that a new timetable be structured.

"The accused is excused."

Hutchings, who is not accused of the murder, was originally charged by detectives in April. It was a holding charge that was subject to review by the PPS.

In a statement the PPS said it had now completed a review of the file of evidence.

PPS assistant director Michael Agnew said: "The PPS has carried out a careful examination of all of the available evidence and information in this case. We have concluded that there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and that the test for prosecution is met. "

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 two years ago.

A new investigation into Mr Cunningham's death was launched in 2013 after Mr McGrory requested a fresh examination of the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

The case has been adjourned until December 15.

Afterwards, Mr Cunningham's nephew, Charlie Agnew, said in a statement : " The family have been made aware of the decision of the PPS to pursue the prosecution of Dennis Hutchings for the attempted murder of my uncle, John-Pat.

"The family will follow the progress of the case with interest."

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