Belfast Telegraph

Army veterans to stage rally at court when prosecution of Soldier F begins

Veterans campaigner Wilfie Brown
Veterans campaigner Wilfie Brown
Ex-soldier Dennis Hutchings
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

A British army veterans' group is planning a controversial support rally at Londonderry Courthouse while Soldier F appears to face prosecution over two Bloody Sunday murders.

Soldier F is expected to appear in court in August charged with the murders of James Wray and William McKinney on January 30, 1972, when British soldiers opened fire on civil rights demonstrators, killing 13 people.

Soldier F is also charged with the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell.

Former British soldier Wilfie Brown, from the Northern Ireland Crown Forces Veterans For Justice (NICFVFJ) group, says his members will rally in support of Soldier F, in spite of real fears over attacks.

"If Soldier F appears at Londonderry court, not only would his life be in danger, but the lives of his supporters would be too," he said. "The people who will be there to support him in court would be open to a drive-by shooting by fanatics in the IRA who continue to drive their agenda in targeting soft targets.

"The possibility is there - unless there is a ring of steel put around the courthouse - that anything could happen.

"We will be inside the court when he appears. There will be no one keeping us out. We will unfold banners in support of Soldier F outside, but once we go into court the banners will be folded away."

He continued: "We are hoping that up to 400 people will come out with us and show their support on the day Soldier F will appear.

"I imagine members of his former regiment and some soldiers will travel from the UK to support him.

"We would call on all supporters and anyone who wants to seek justice to come along and support him.

"I am not calling for violence, or mass demonstration, but we need to be heard like the other side."

Kate Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday, said the protests would be wrong.

"We have waited long enough to get a soldier in court," she said. "With regards people gathering outside court, they are interfering with due process. Is that fair to the families? They are looking to put soldiers above the law. And it is wrong on any level. We are all equal before the law.

"Anyone can go into the public gallery and you can sit there quietly and respectfully and listen. They should absolutely go in there and support him, because we will be there supporting our families."

Meanwhile, another former soldier facing trial over the fatal shooting of a man over four decades ago has spoken of how his final years are being made a "total hell".

Dennis Hutchings, a 78-year-old former staff sergeant in the Life Guards, is facing trial over the killing of John Patrick Cunningham in 1974. The 27-year-old, who had learning difficulties, was shot and killed as he ran away from an Army patrol near Benburb in Co Armagh.

Mr Hutchings insists he fired into the air in a bid to get Mr Cunningham to stop. Prosecutors have admitted another soldier, now deceased, may have fired the fatal shot.

"It's a bloody, utter disgrace they are still pursuing me," the veteran told the Daily Telegraph.

"It's disgusting. This is making my final years a total hell."

Mr Hutchings, who served almost 30 years in the Army, will be tried in Northern Ireland on a charge of attempted murder.

He said: "I didn't have any intention of killing Cunningham. I just wanted to get him to stop. I fired air shots. All I wanted to do was stop him and ask him why he was running. Our job was to protect people."

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