Northern Ireland news

John Pat Cunningham: The uncontested facts

John Pat Cunningham was known to be anxious and fearful around men in uniforms, and was known to have run from army, police and priests. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

JOHN Pat Cunningham's family has asked for relatives of former soldier Dennis Hutchings to be "given time to grieve" at a "difficult time".

They have declined interviews following the 80-year-old's death, but a statement was issued on their behalf by human rights campaign group Pat Finucane Centre and solicitors KRW Law denouncing "false and factually inaccurate claims... made in the media by some political leaders".

It claims "negative reaction to this case within unionism and in sections of the British press has been determined by the fact that John Pat Cunningham, who posed no threat whatsoever, was an Irish Catholic".

The statement noted "none of those who have commented have actually attended the trial and are clearly unaware of the actual facts of the case", laying out eight that were "uncontested".

These include that the 27-year-old "was shot and killed by three bullets fired by a British army patrol on 15 June 1974, in a field in Carickaness Road, Benburb, Co Tyrone".

He was shot "through the back and shoulder and endured an injury to his right hand".

John Pat was "described by a doctor to have been born with an incomplete development of the mind and... in today's society would perhaps be described as a vulnerable adult... said to have had the mind of a seven-year old".

"He was known to be anxious and fearful around men in uniforms, and was known to have run from army, police and priests".

Another fact detailed was that the army patrol which "came across John Pat... was led by Dennis Hutchings" who was "in the front seat of the vehicle and was the first to get out".

It was agreed by both sides that Mr Hutchings "chased John Pat into a field, closely followed by another soldier" and John Pat "was shot in the back from a distance of 90 metres".

Also uncontested was a statement by Soldier E, who was in the rear of the Land Rover, saying "he saw Hutchings follow John Pat into the field... (and) by the time I reached the gate, [Hutchings] had already climbed over and was standing in the field".

They said another uncontested fact was that Soldier E "saw Hutchings stop in the middle of the field and said that he warned John Pat to halt, and that when John Pat kept running, Hutchings cocked his rifle. Soldier E said he heard 3 or 4 shots and John Pat fell. Soldier E said he could state who fired their gun."

It said it was agreed that Royal Military Police "Sergeant Alan Mews seized the Self Loading Rifle... and magazine from Dennis Hutchings... (and) when examined, the magazine was found to have only 17 bullets, from 20. This means that Dennis Hutchings fired 3 shots".

Sergeant Mews "also seized the Self Loading Rifle... and magazine from Soldier B" which was "found to have only 18 bullets, from 20".

It said there was no challenge to a report from RUC Detective Sergeant McBurney on the locations where spent cases were found which "indicated that Soldier A (Hutchings) had fired 3 shots and Soldier B had fired twice".

They go on to say evidence in court showed the shooting had not been "as the result of a `split second' decision".

The statement said it is also "factually inaccurate" to claim that Dennis Hutchings previously stood trial over the killing and "been `cleared'" previously.

Read more: PPS defends decision to prosecute British Army veteran Dennis Hutchings

John Pat Cunningham, who was 27, was killed at Benburb on 15 June 1974. Picture by Pacemaker

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