Dennis Hutchings wants to judicially review Government ‘failures’

A former British soldier facing trial over a fatal Troubles shooting wants to challenge Government “failures” in court.

Dennis Hutchings, 78, aims to launch a judicial review to force ministers to spell out exactly what protections veterans will be given from “vexatious” legal action in Northern Ireland before his trial next month, his solicitors said.

The former member of the Life Guards regiment, has pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties during the conflict and is expected to stand trial in Belfast.

John Pat Cunningham, 27, died after being shot in the back as he ran away from an Army patrol near Benburb, Co Tyrone, in 1974.

Hutchings said: “The Government can’t keep hiding behind claims that this is an issue for Northern Ireland when it was the Westminster parliament that sent 300,000 British troops to Northern Ireland to protect British citizens.

“There were more British members of security forces killed in Northern Ireland than the two Iraq wars and Afghanistan put together.

“Veterans should be protected by British law from these unfair and discriminatory prosecutions.”

The ex-serviceman, from Cawsand in Cornwall, denies attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

He previously failed in a Supreme Court challenge against the decision to hear his case without a jury and is scheduled to stand trial on March 9.

Dennis Hutchings court case
Hutchings previously failed in a Supreme Court challenge against the decision to hear his case without a jury and is scheduled to stand trial on March 9 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA).

On Thursday his solicitors said: “Unable to rely on the Government and politicians, this leaves Mr Hutchings no choice but to proceed with a judicial review of the Government’s failures.”

They said ministers had rejected a request to clarify exactly what protections veterans will be given, arguing it is a matter for police and prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland.

The Government has also written that Westminster is committed to introduce legislation to protect veterans.

The accused’s solicitors said: “These two positions are contradictory and incompatible.

“This cannot, on the one hand, be a matter for Stormont while, at the same time be the subject of promised legislation by Westminster.

“The Government has also rejected a request by Mr Hutchings to meet with him to try and seek a resolution without resorting to legal action.

“Meanwhile, a letter from Mr Hutchings to Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, who chairs the Parliamentary Veterans Support Group, asking him to facilitate such a meeting has gone unanswered for almost two weeks.”

Hutchings said he was “bitterly disappointed” by Sir Iain and his committee.

The British Government has repeatedly said there will be no Army prosecutions without new evidence.

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