Belfast Telegraph

Former soldier in court over 1974 killing of disabled man 'fired weapon'

By Staff Reporter

A retired soldier charged in connection with a 1974 shooting in Northern Ireland told military police his gun had been used during the incident, a court has heard.

Dennis Hutchings (75) appeared in court accused of the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties more than 40 years ago. John-Pat Cunningham (27) was shot dead by an Army patrol in June 1974.

Hutchings, from Torpoint in Cornwall, is also facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Cunningham.

During a preliminary inquiry at Armagh Magistrates Court Alan Mews, a retired member of the Royal Military Police, said he had seized Hutchings' self-loading rifle after the shooting because the defendant had told him it had been used. Mr Mews, who was on duty on the day of the incident, was asked by a prosecution lawyer if he had suspected the rifle had been used. He replied: "I was told it was used."

He was then asked: "Who told you?"

Mr Mews responded: "The defendant."

He told the court that when he arrived at the scene he entered a field with a priest.

"I walked 200 yards, then I saw the body of John-Pat Cunningham," he said.

"I had a conversation with the priest, then returned to the vehicle.

"I spoke to the soldiers involved and took possession of a self-loading rifle along with a magazine from Colour Sergeant Hutchings."

A second retired member of the Royal Military Police, John Cooper, told the court he had no recollection of attending the scene of the shooting or taking statements from two soldiers.

When shown a statement he had written about the shooting in June 1974, he said it "makes no difference at all" (to his memory).

He also stated he had "no idea" who the two soldiers were that he had interviewed after the shooting.

Earlier, the court was told Hutchings was suffering from ill health.

Requesting breaks throughout proceedings, a defence lawyer said: "He is not a well man. He has kidney failure. In a matter of months he will be on dialysis. He will be in hospital for five hours every day."

Mr Cunningham, who had the mental age of a child of 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, on the border between counties Tyrone and Armagh.

Belfast Telegraph


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