Northern Ireland news

PPS rejects resignation call over attempted murder charge

Barra McGrory, director of the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland

THE Public Prosecution Service has rejected a unionist MP's call for its chief to resign over the reinstating of an attempted murder charge against a soldier for a Troubles killing.

Dennis Hutchings (75) appeared in court in Armagh earlier this year charged over the killing of John Pat Cunningham near Benburb in 1974.

He was the senior soldier of a patrol that shot dead Mr Cunningham, who had learning difficulties and was apparently running away from the patrol when he was shot.

In March, a judge said there was insufficient evidence to proceed with an attempted murder charge against Mr Hutchings.

But at a further hearing in Belfast on Friday, it emerged the charge was being brought back by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). The case was adjourned until next month.

Responding to the development, UUP South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan called for the director of public prosecutions (DPP) Barra McGrory to resign.

"The credibility of the DPP and his office has been shot to pieces by their pursuit of a 75-year-old veteran," he said.

"The pursuit against Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings is perceived by many as a witch hunt."

He added: "Barra McGrory's reign as director of public prosecutions has run its course and for the sake of public confidence, he should pack his bags and get out of the public prosecutor's office."

On the decision, the PPS said: "The indictment in this case includes the charge of attempted murder to be heard at the crown court, which we consider to be the appropriate level for these matters to be determined. As this case is before the court it would be inappropriate to comment further."

In a further statement, a spokeswoman said: "While there has been some political commentary over the recent period, political considerations play no part in any decision taken by the PPS.

"Our decision-making is fair, independent and impartial and is not influenced by improper or undue pressure from any source, in line with the code for prosecutors."

Meanwhile, Mr McGrory has spoken of his DPP role and his Belfast upbringing in an Irish-language interview with journalist Eamonn Mallie.

He described the "tension" of growing up during the Troubles, and how his family had to be "very careful" due to his father's work as a defence solicitor for republicans – recalling how a hoax bomb was once planted under his father's car.

He said his father was "very sad and annoyed" about the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane who lived near them in north Belfast.

Mr McGrory also described how he learnt Irish while holidaying in Donegal and his admiration for Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone.

On his DPP role, he insisted his office is "completely independent" and he treats everyone fairly.

On proposals for a 'statute of limitations' stopping the prosecution of ex-British soldiers for Troubles murders, he said: "If they are considering that I hope they treat everyone fairly and that they consider the victims as well."

Asked if he is a republican, he said: "I'm not going to talk about politics. It has nothing to do with the job I do. That's a private matter, I believe."

Beart is Briathar airs tonight at 10pm on BBC Two Northern Ireland.

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