Northern Ireland

Hutchings in court for Cunningham shooting enquiry

Dennis Hutchings Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption A lawyer for Mr Hutchings said his client was 'not a well man'

An ex-soldier has appeared in court in Armagh charged over the killing of a man with learning difficulties in 1974.

Dennis Hutchings, 75, was the senior soldier of a patrol that shot dead John Pat Cunningham near Benburb in 1974.

Mr Cunningham, who had the mental age of a child aged between six and 10, had a fear of men in uniform and was apparently running away from the patrol when he was shot.

A preliminary enquiry will decide whether the case proceeds to trial.

A retired military police officer, Alan Mews, told the preliminary inquiry at Armagh Magistrates' Court that he had seized an SLR at the scene from then Colour Sergeant Hutchings.

Asked why he had seized the gun, he said it would be normal procedure to seize any weapon that was suspected of having been fired.

He was then asked what made him suspect this weapon had been fired.

"I was told that it had been," he replied.

"Who by?" asked a prosecution lawyer.

"The defendant," replied Mr Mews.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption John Pat Cunningham was shot dead by an Army patrol in County Armagh in 1974

Mr Cunningham's nephew, Charlie Agnew, watched from the public gallery, while a large group of family and friends were also present to support Dennis Hutchings.

A lawyer for Mr Hutchings, of Cawsand, Torpoint, Cornwall, said his client was "not a well man" and that kidney failure would soon see him requiring dialysis for up to five hours every day.

White-haired Mr Hutchings was dressed in a light grey suit and wore his regimental tie.

He listened intently throughout with the aid of the court's audio loop system.

Due to his poor health, however, and at the request of his legal team, he took regular breaks.

A former member of the Army's Special Investigation Branch, John Cooper, also gave evidence but told the court he had no memory of the incident and did not know the identities of other members of the patrol.