Northern Ireland news

Jeffrey Donaldson asks prosecution service what new evidence led to Dennis Hutchings trial

Dennis Hutchings pictured at Laganside Court in Belfast earlier this week before he was taken ill. Picture by Pacemaker
Rebecca Black, PA

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has challenged Northern Ireland’s prosecution service over what new and compelling evidence led to the trial of Army veteran Dennis Hutchings.

It comes after Hutchings died in hospital in Belfast after contracting Covid-19.

The 80-year-old 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.

Hutchings died at the Mater Hospital on Monday while in Belfast for the trial.

Hours earlier, the trial had been adjourned for three weeks in light of Hutchings’ health.

Sir Jeffrey has urged the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to explain what new and compelling evidence caused them to bring Hutchings to Northern Ireland for the trial.

He said he had been shocked when the decision was taken to bring the case to trial.

“He has been literally dragged before the courts,” he told the BBC.

“Dennis is an honourable man, he wanted to clear his name, he was prepared to go despite the risk to his health but I do think this morning there are serious questions that need to be asked of those who took the decision that it was in the public interest to prosecute this man.”

Sir Jeffrey said Hutchings’ actions had been investigated at the time.

“So it is not a question of this being something new, and therefore the question I have for the PPS is what was the new and compelling evidence that meant it was in the public interest to bring an 80-year-old in ill health on dialysis at severe risk to his health before the courts, and I think that is an entirely valid question that I am entitled to ask this morning,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie has called for a “full and thorough” review into the decision-making of the Public Prosecution Service.

 

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