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Ex-soldier 'cannot get fair trial'

By Michael Donnelly

A former soldier accused of the attempted murder of a Co Armagh man 43 years ago cannot get a fair trial, his lawyers claimed yesterday.

Dennis Hutchings (76) is accused of the murder of 27-year-old John Patrick Cunningham, who had learning difficulties and was shot in the back as he ran away from an Army patrol near Benburb in June 1974.

Defence counsel James Lewis QC, in an "abuse of process" hearing at Belfast Crown Court, accused the prosecution of having "manipulated the proceedings".

He revealed that Mr Hutchings is suffering from an incurable kidney disease and argued that "these proceedings should be stayed... in that he cannot get a fair trial, and secondly it is unfair to try him".

The lawyer, who accepted that the granting of such applications was "an exceptional remedy", claimed that given the length of time since the shooting, and other material matters, his client had been "extremely prejudiced".

Mr Lewis continued that while his client had made no direct admission of opening fire, he had fired three shots during the incident, while two others were fired by a second soldier in the 10-man patrol. The lawyer said while the prosecution may say the shots his client fired were aimed shots, "we say they were warning shots".

Mr Lewis said Mr Hutchings "was explicitly told" at the time that he would not face a trial or prosecution, but that now the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided to overturn that commitment.

"That promise not to prosecute was unequivocal and in writing," he declared.

In addition, said Mr Lewis, neither Mr Hutchings nor his defence team had been given any "explanation for the change of opinion".

Mr Cunningham, described as an innocent, vulnerable and unarmed man, who had a fear of people in uniform, was shot dead in a field in Carrickaness Road, as he ran away from Hutchings' patrol.

Mr Justice Colton adjourned the "abuse of process" hearing until next month to give the prosecution time to respond.

Belfast Telegraph

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