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PPS credibility in legacy cases is 'a major issue' in Stormont talks

By Brett Campbell

The role of the Public Prosecution Service in legacy cases has "become a major issue" in the political negotiations to restore Stormont, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has revealed.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is facing mounting criticism after a decision to reinstate an attempted murder charge against 75-year-old Army veteran, Dennis Hutchings.

Mr Donaldson has vowed to raise the case with the Secretary of State as a matter of urgency.  

"I have always supported our legal and judicial system, unlike some who for many years refused to recognise the courts and support the rule of law. Dennis Hutchings has twice been investigated in this case and twice told he had no case to answer," he said.

Mr Donaldson also claimed that many people in the community, himself included, are losing confidence in the ability of the PPS to deal with legacy cases. 

He added: "The role of the PPS and the Director in legacy cases has now become a major issue for us in the negotiations about how we deal with our troubled past."

Mr Hutchings has previously been charged in relation to the fatal shooting of John-Pat Cunningham near the Tyrone village of Benburb in 1974, but in March a judge said there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a case against him.

A Historical Enquiries Team investigation also found that Hutchings, who is the only living witness, had no case to answer.

The PPS decision on Friday to restore the charge sparked anger among unionist politicians and veterans amid already existing tensions over a perceived witch-hunt of former members of the security force.

Ulster Unionist MP and former army officer Danny Kinahan also hit out at the decision and said the credibility of the PPS has been "shot to pieces".

"The pursuit against Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings is perceived by many as a witch-hunt," he said.

"While 'On the Run' IRA suspects received comfort letters from the government effectively making them immune from prosecution, Dennis Hutchings is being re-tried for a case that he has twice been told he has no case to answer, and where he is the only living witness.

In a statement, a PPS spokesperson confirmed that an indictment presented at the Crown Court in this case includes the charge of attempted murder and insisted that "all decisions are taken in strict accordance with the PPS Code for Prosecutors".

He added: "As this case is currently before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Earlier this year, Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC strongly rejected claims that prosecutors are involved in a "witch-hunt" against former soldiers.

"The simple and clear reality is that we deal with cases as they are referred to us, in accordance with the Code for Prosecutors," he said in January.

"There is no imbalance of approach within the PPS."

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