Belfast Telegraph

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings pleads not guilty over John Pat Cunningham killing

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings (Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Ashleigh McDonald

A former soldier accused of a Troubles-related shooting over four decades ago formally has entered a 'not guilty' plea, after appearing in court via video link.

Dennis Hutchings was excused from attending Belfast Crown Court in person for Thursday's arraignment due to his ill health. Instead, the 78-year old appeared via video link from Plymouth Crown Court.

Dressed in a suit and with medals pinned to his chest, the former member of the Life Guards regiment was charged with two offences arising from the death of John Patrick Cunningham.

The vulnerable 27-year old was fatally shot in the back as he ran away from an army patrol near Benburb in Co Armagh on June 15, 1974.

Hutchings, from Cawsand in Cornwall, was charged with attempting to murder Mr Cunningham and attempting to cause him grievous bodily harm with intent.

During Thursday's brief hearing, Mr Justice Colton firstly apologised to Hutchings for proceedings being delayed for a short period due to technical difficulties.

The judge then asked Hutchings "have you been informed about what is going to happen today?", and when the pensioner confirmed he had, the clerk of the court asked the defendant if he could hear the proceedings.

John Patrick Cunningham
John Patrick Cunningham

The accused was then asked to confirm he was Dennis Hutchings, after which he was arraigned on both charges.

When he was asked how he pleaded to the attempted murder charge, Hutchings replied "not guilty." After the second charge of attempted GBH with intent was put to him, he again replied "not guilty."

The pensioner has made the case it was never his intention to kill or injure Mr Cunningham, but rather he was firing warning shots to get him to stop.

After the pleas were entered by Hutchings, Mr Justice Colton said that he had already fixed the date for hearing, with the trial starting on March 9.

The case is set to be reviewed at the start of November.

Mr Justice Colton then addressed Hutchings and told him he was being released on continuing bail ahead of next Spring's trial.

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