Family of veteran who died during Troubles shooting trial want apology

Family of Northern Ireland veteran who died while on trial over shooting during the Troubles demand apology over ‘lost’ evidence

  • The family of an Army veteran who died on trial over a Troubles shooting has called on prosecutors to ‘unreservedly apologise’
  • Northern Ireland veteran Dennis Hutchings died aged 80 in October midway through his attempted murder trial
  • He had been accused of the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham, 27, in Co Tyrone in 1974 

The family of an Army veteran who died while on trial over a Troubles shooting has called on prosecutors to ‘unreservedly apologise’ for bringing charges amid claims police lost key evidence.

Lawyers acting for great-great-grandfather Dennis Hutchings, who died aged 80 in October, have filed a formal complaint to police and Northern Ireland’s prosecution service insisting he should never have been prosecuted.

Mr Hutchings was accused of the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham, 27, who was shot dead in the village of Benturb, County Tyrone, in June 1974.

Prosecutors claimed Mr Hutchings and a serviceman known as Soldier B – now dead – both fired their weapons, but they could not prove who fired the fatal shots. This led to the former Life Guards staff sergeant being charged with only attempted murder.

Army veteran Dennis Hutchings, 80, (pictured) died after catching Covid-19 midway through his controversial trial for a fatal Troubles shooting almost 50 years ago

Sitting in a crown court dock in Belfast this month, service medals pinned to his chest, Mr Hutchings somehow maintained his dignified stoicism


Mr Hutchings contracted Covid and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance last night after complaining that he was struggling to breathe. Hutchings in dress uniform at Knightsbridge Barracks, 1978 (Right)

John Pat Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning difficulties, was shot dead during an Army operation near the village of Benburb on June 15, 1974. Mr Hutchings maintained he only fired aimed warning shots into the air

In evidence presented to the court shortly before Mr Hutchings passed away in Belfast, the trial heard that Soldier B had fired ‘tracer’ rounds – which have a small pyrotechnic charge – and Mr Hutchings had not. These bullets would have left chemical residue on field dressings applied to wounds at the time, but this evidence is now presumed lost.

His legal team have suggested this evidence means investigators could have established which bullets killed Mr Cunningham. The complaint says: ‘If the police had lost the key evidence by which this could be determined, that should have been disclosed and the case withdrawn.’

Last night Mr Hutchings’ partner Kim Devonshire said his family is ‘dedicated to proving Dennis innocent’. Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service said they were ‘confident proceedings against Mr Hutchings, including the disclosure of evidence, were dealt with appropriately’.

A police spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment.

What is the timeline of the Northern Ireland troubles and peace process? 

Police officers and firefighters inspecting the damage caused by a bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998

August 1969

British Government first send troops into Northern Ireland after three days of rioting in Catholic Londonderry.

30 January 1972

On ‘Bloody Sunday’  13 civilians are shot dead by the British Army during a civil rights march in Londonderry.

March 1972

The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by London. 

1970s

The IRA begin its bloody campaign of bombings and assassinations in Britain. 

April 1981

Bobby Sands, a republicans on hunger strike in the Maze prison, is elected to Parliament. He dies a month later.

October 1984

An IRA bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party. conference

Early 1990s

Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communications was so secret most ministers did not know about it. 

April 1998

Tony Blair helps to broker the Good Friday Agreement, which is hailed as the end of the Troubles. 

It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as its first minister.

2000s

With some exceptions the peace process holds and republican and loyalist paramilitaries decommission their weapons.

May 2011

The Queen and Prince Philip make a state visit to Ireland, the first since the 1911 tour by George V. 

In a hugely symbolic moment, the Queen is pictured shaking hands with Martin McGuinness – a former IRA leader.

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