Dennis Hutchings trial: Ex-soldier to claim he fired only warning shots at vulnerable man killed by the Army in 1974
Dennis Hutchings is to claim he fired only warning shots in the direction of a vulnerable young man while on duty with the Army in Co Tyrone in 1974, a court has heard. n the second day of the trial of the former member of the Life Guards regiment for the attempted murder of John Patrick Cunningham, the court was told the defence objected to the admissibility of some evidence gathered at the time of the incident. The prosecution read statements from people who were witnesses. Due to the passage of time, many have either passed away or are too old to appear in person.
Defence counsel James Lewis QC did not object to the majority of these statements, but did object to a “sketch plan” made at the time of the shooting by a police mapping expert who passed away in 1989. It gave details of bullet casings and the precise location of the victim’s body in the field where he was shot dead. “It is not a matter of discretion.
There is no discretion on these provisions. If one of the other officers drew this map, it is not possible to draw an inference to the criminal standard. My Lord, these are important matters and we do require strict compliance with the law.
The Crown must prove their position,” Mr Lewis said. Mr Hutchings, now aged 80 and living in Cornwall, denies attempting to murder and cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Cunningham. The court was previously told the 27-year-old was shot in the back, possibly three times, as he ran from an Army patrol in 1974.
The trial started with statements that were made that year. The prosecution contended the individual referred to as soldier A in the statements throughout proceedings was, in fact, Mr Hutchings. Mr Lewis QC told judge Mr Justice O’Hara the defence did not accept that the identities of the two soldiers said to have fired five shots at Mr Cunningham – soldiers A and B – had been proven.
“Nothing in the papers before your lordship identifies who soldiers A or B are,” he said. Prosecution barrister Charles MacCreanor QC said the Crown would seek to introduce evidence at a later stage that proved the identity of soldier A. The prosecution has said soldier B had died.
The court was told that many of those who made statements at the time were either deceased or too elderly to give evidence. Instead, an agreement was made with the defence to allow the statements to be read to the court. A statement made by retired state pathologist Thomas Marshall, dated June 23, 2015, was read to the court.
In it, Mr Marshall said he did not recall carrying out the autopsy on Mr Cunningham. Instead, he read from his original report and said any discrepancy on the bullet trajectory could have been as a result of a mistake when his notes were being written up. Asked if he could explain the difference, he said his commentary “may have been mistyped”.
The result of an autopsy carried out at the mortuary in Craigavon in 1974 was also read to the court. It said the cause of death was “one bullet wound to the truck”. Carried out by a Professor Marshall, it noted Mr Cunningham was wearing a dark sports jacket, a pullover, a red shirt and a green sports shirt, brown trousers buttoned up the front and held up by braces made of string, a white sock on the left foot, green sock on the right foot and black shoes.
Field dressings had been applied to his wounds. A statement by local priest Fr Dermot McNeice, a member of the Order of Servants of Mary who resided at Benburb Priory in 1974, was read to the court. Fr McNeice described Mr Cunningham as a “local character” who regularly passed through the grounds of the priory. “I was aware that John Pat had learning difficulties.
He was a grown man who had the mind of a child,” he said. “I saw John Pat as a local character who liked to be a part of things happening in the community”. Fr McNeice said that on the day of the shooting, the priory received a phone call saying someone had been shot and required the last rites.
He added: “I was wearing my habit. I went and found my holy oils and got into my car. “I saw a man’s body lying at the iron fence across the field.
I walked over and realised the man was John Pat Cunningham. It looked to me like he had been climbing over the iron fence. I believe he may have been lying on his back.
I gave John Pat his last rites.” Mr Hutchings, wearing a jacket with military medals pinned to the left breast, sat in the dock and listened to proceedings through a headset. He was once again accompanied to court by former Veterans Minister and Tory MP Johnny Mercer.
A small crowd of supporters gathered outside the court.
Mr Justice O’Hara said he would make his ruling on the admissibility of the hand-drawn map on Friday morning, when the trial will resume for a third day.
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