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Army veteran Dennis Hutchings dies with Covid-19 after Troubles trial adjourned


Former soldier Dennis Hutchings passed away on Monday evening in hospital.

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings passed away on Monday evening in hospital.

Peter Morrison/PA

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings passed away on Monday evening in hospital.

Army veteran Dennis Hutchings died on Monday evening, after his trial over a fatal Troubles shooting was halted following news that he contracted Covid-19.

The ex-soldier had denied attempting to murder and cause grievous bodily harm to John Pat Cunningham (27), who was shot in the back as he ran from an Army patrol in a field near Benburb in 1974.

Mr Hutchings’ trial was initially adjourned for three weeks after his defence barrister, James Lewis QC informed Belfast Crown Court that Hutchings’ condition had been confirmed by a PCR test on Saturday.

“I regret Mr Hutchings is not well with regard as one would expect with his other comorbidities of renal failure and cardiac malfunction.

“And we are unable to presently take instructions as he is currently in isolation in his hotel room.”

Its reported the 80-year-old died in Belfast’s Mater hospital on Monday.

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Reacting to the “desperately sad news” of Mr Hutchings’ death on Twitter, Jeffrey Donaldson added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hutchings family.

"We have said all along that Dennis should never have been brought to trial again, not least because of his health but also a lack of compelling new evidence.

"There are serious questions to answer here."

The DUP leader later added: “Whilst understanding the desire of the Cunningham family for justice, we have consistently challenged those in legal authority who insisted that Dennis stand trial again. He was an 80 year old veteran, in ill-health on dialysis and there was a lack of compelling new evidence.

“There now stands serious questions around those who made the decision that Dennis should stand trial once more. He was honourable. He wanted to clear his name again but was dragged to a court and hounded until his death.

"This is a sad indictment on those who want to rewrite history but also demands serious questions of the Public Prosecution Service about how this trial was deemed to be in the public interest.”

TUV leader Jim Allister commented: “The needless dragging of an 80 year old soldier, Dennis Hutchings, through the courts has had a very sad end with the passing of Mr Hutchings this evening.

“The strain on this man was cruel, with him requiring regular dialysis, while being brought to Belfast to face a trial of dubious provenance.

“My thoughts and prayers tonight are with his family and friends who may understandably feel that what he was put through contributed to his decline.”

In a statement, UUP leader Doug Beattie also offered condolences to Mr Hutchings’ family and friends and said: 

“The decision by the Public Prosecution Service to proceed with a trial given his ill-health demands a full and thorough independent review. The questions must be asked, did this trial hasten Mr Hutchings’ death and did it meet the evidential and public interest tests?”

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