Group plans to erect memorial to ex-soldier
Retired Army veterans here have claimed their plans to escort the body of former soldier Dennis Hutchings through Belfast to an English-bound ferry were thwarted by a “wall of silence” from the Ministry of Defence.
The Northern Ireland Crown Forces Veterans for Justice (NICFVFJ) have also revealed that they are going to erect a memorial in Northern Ireland to the Cornwall-based ex member of the Life Guards who died in Belfast last week.
Eighty-year-old Mr Hutchings who was on trial at Belfast Crown Court passed away from Covid-19 at the Mater Hospital on Monday.
He had been defending himself after pleading not guilty to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Benburb, Co Tyrone in 1974. He also denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.
Mr Cunningham (27) was shot dead as he ran way from an Army patrol.
Mr Hutchings’ grieving partner Kim Devonshire yesterday said he had been determined to clear his name.
"He really believed he was going to clear his name,’ she told Daily Mail. “It breaks my heart that he never could.”
The case had been adjourned for three weeks after it was disclosed that Mr Hutchings had contracted coronavirus.
The non-jury court case had only been sitting three days a week to allow Mr Hutchings to travel to hospital for kidney dialysis, due to his history of heart failure and fluid on the lungs.
The NICFVFJ, set up by retired soldiers, police officers and prison officers say that after his death they had hoped to accompany Mr Hutchings in “a dignified manner” on his last journey through Belfast but claim that the Ministry of Defence refused to co-operate with them.
The organisation claim Mr Hutchings’ body was secreted out of Belfast under the cover of darkness.
The MoD press office have not responded yet to Sunday Life questions about the claims.
The NICFVFJ who have claimed Mr Hutchings was the victim of a witch-hunt say they are now planning to remember the ex-soldier in “a tangible way”.
Colin Brown says that they have collected money to finance a memorial for Mr Hutchings but that no location has yet been finalised.
The veterans group have already designed an online tribute to Mr Hutchings in the form of a medal bearing his photograph and the words ‘sold out; shafted; betrayed’.
NICFVFJ member John Ross, who’s standing for the TUV in East Belfast in next year’s Assembly elections, says the treatment of Dennis Hutchings “must rank as one of the most shameful episodes in British judicial process”.
The PPS have defended their decision to put Mr Hutchings in the dock saying it was in the public interest.
Members of the Crown Forces veterans group say they intend to travel to England for Mr Hutchings’ funeral. No details have yet been announced.
Kim Devonshire yesterday told how she first heard her partner of 26 years had been hospitalised in Belfast when she received a phone call from a civil servant to the couple’s home in Cornwall. She struggled to get through to the ward but finally she was put through to a doctor who informed her Dennis had died.
Kim said she was speechless and thought there had been some mistake as he had only been in hospital a matter of hours.
After a career in the Army, Dennis established a hugely successful security business, which he sold for more than £1m when he retired in 2005 to Cornwall with Kim.
She told the Daily Mail: ‘He was determined to fight this. He knew he wasn’t guilty and he wasn’t going to let anyone say he was. When they said about having an amnesty, that infuriated him. He said, ‘They give you an amnesty if you’re guilty, but I wasn’t’.
"He wanted to be in court. He felt if he hadn’t [but appeared down the line in Plymouth as he was offered] it would have been pushed aside.”
But on Monday he was desperate to get back to his village in Cornwall, said his supporter Johnny Mercer MP.
Mr Mercer said Dennis told him on Monday afternoon: “I want you to get me out of this hell-hole and get me home.”
Kim has asked the former Veterans Minister to read the eulogy at the funeral, which will be held in a church in Plymouth.