Armistice Day funeral for veteran who died during Troubles trial

Armistice Day funeral for betrayed British veteran: Terminally-ill 80-year-old Dennis Hutchings who caught Covid while being hauled through Troubles trial over 1974 shooting claim will be laid to rest near Cornish home

  • Dennis Hutchings, 80, died from Covid last week while trying to clear his name
  • He was on trial over alleged attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in 1974
  • Prosecution was one of two ongoing prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans 
  • His funeral will take place on Armistice Day at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Plymouth

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

The funeral of Northern Ireland veteran Dennis Hutchings will take place on Armistice Day next month, it has been confirmed.

The service will take place at St Andrew’s Church, in Plymouth, on November 11 and a large turnout is expected, the Express has reported.

Andrew Barry, a friend of Mr Hutchings and a fellow Northern Ireland veteran, told the newspaper: ‘There could not be a more fitting day for this funeral to be held.

‘I believe Dennis should be given a funeral with full military honours.’

Dennis Hutchings, 80, was suffering from terminal kidney failure and heart disease when he flew to Belfast this month to face a judge-only trial, but said he was determined to clear his name over the alleged attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in County Tyrone in 1974.

Last Monday, he was rushed to hospital in an ambulance after complaining that he was struggling to breathe. His condition deteriorated and he later died from coronavirus.

His case was one of two ongoing prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans who served during the Troubles despite government plans announced in the summer to end all criminal and civil cases relating to deaths during the 30-year conflict.

The proposals are yet to be implemented and were met with fierce backlash on both sides of Northern Ireland’s political divide. 

Mr Hutchings’ funeral is set to take place at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth on November 11

Friends of Mr Hutchings have called for him to be buried with full military honours when his funeral takes place next month. Pictured: Wreaths laid down at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day

Philip Barden, Mr Hutchings’s solicitor, said the rigour of forcing the army veteran to stand trial had ‘killed him’, The Telegraph reported.

Three days before the trial began he was struggling to breathe but told The Times that he wanted to clear his name. Asked if he was well enough to fly, he said: ‘I don’t know until I can get on the plane.’  

The spectacle of a dying veteran sitting in a dock in Belfast wearing his service medals was already hugely embarrassing for Boris Johnson and his government, which had previously vowed to end repeated investigations into those who served in Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Hutchings’s death sparked a further slew of criticism as to why the trial was allowed to take place at all.

Paul Young, a former Blues and Royals soldier now working with the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans group, said: ‘This has been an absolute disgrace. This frail, old, sick man hounded to his grave without being able to clear his name. 

‘He was absolutely determined to be in court. The justice system was insatiable and wanted his scalp but he died a lonely old man on his own in a Covid ward.’ 

Mr Hutchings caught Covid and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance after complaining he was struggling to breathe. Right: Hutchings in dress uniform at Knightsbridge Barracks, 1978

Hutchings greeted by a supporter as he arrives to the Belfast Crown court on October 4, 2021

Hutchings had been suffering from kidney disease and the court had been sitting only three days a week to enable him to undergo dialysis treatment between hearings.

He was charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974.

The former member of the Life Guards regiment, from Cawsand in Cornwall, had denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

Mr Cunningham, 27, was shot dead as he ran away from an Army patrol across a field near Benburb. People who knew him said he had the mental age of a child and was known to have a deep fear of soldiers.

Critics of the plans to prosecute Northern Ireland veterans have cited the alleged hounding of soldiers who served in the province, while IRA terrorists were released early from prison or told they would not be prosecuted for Troubles-related offences following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Dennis Hutchings (pictured on the far right in this photo) in Germany, 1960

Great-grandfather Mr Hutchings was supported in court by his partner of 25 years, Kim, and son John, however the pair returned to England when his trial was postponed following his Covid diagnosis. 

Mr 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.  

The trial heard that prosecutors were unable to prove whether Mr Hutchings or another soldier, now dead, fired the fatal shots, as no forensic evidence was collected. 

Mr Hutchings, who was in the Life Guards, had pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder. He also denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

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