Army veteran on trial in Belfast over Troubles killing dies with Covid-19

An army veteran whose trial at Belfast crown court over a Troubles shooting was adjourned due to his ill health has died after contracting Covid-19, it has been reported.

It is understood that Dennis Hutchings died on Monday. The trial had been adjourned for three weeks after he contracted Covid.

The defence barrister, James Lewis QC, had informed Belfast crown court of the development as proceedings in the non-jury trial were due to begin on Monday.

He told judge Mr Justice O’Hara that Hutchings’ condition had been confirmed by a PCR test on Saturday. “I regret Mr Hutchings is not well with regard, as one would expect, with his other comorbidities of renal failure and cardiac malfunction. And we are unable to presently take instructions as he is currently in isolation in his hotel room.”

Hutchings, 80, 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 County 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.

Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning disabilities, was shot dead as he ran away from an army patrol across a field near Benburb.

The Democratic Unionist party leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, said it was “desperately sad news”. On Twitter, he said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hutchings family. We have said all along that Dennis should never have been brought to trial again, not least because of his health, but also a lack of compelling new evidence. There are serious questions to answer here.”

In a statement, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said: “The needless dragging of an 80-year-old soldier, Dennis Hutchings, through the courts has had a very sad end with the passing of Mr Hutchings this evening.

“The strain on this man was cruel, with him requiring regular dialysis, while being brought to Belfast to face a trial of dubious provenance. My thoughts and prayers tonight are with his family and friends who may understandably feel that what he was put through contributed to his decline.”

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