Monday, January 24

An Army Veteran’s Trouble Trial Contributed to His Death, Lawyer Says | North Ireland


The lawyer for a terminally ill 80-year-old army veteran who died of Covid-19 three days after a trial for a fatal shooting during the riots in Northern Ireland has said the procedures contributed to his death.

Philip Barden, who acted on behalf of Dennis Hutchings, said he would be “alive today” had he not been forced to go to Northern Ireland to stand trial for the murder of a 27-year-old man with a learning disability in 1974.

The trial in Belfast crown court was suspended on Monday after it emerged that Hutchings, who had kidney disease, was on dialysis and also suffering from heart problems, had contracted the virus over the weekend.

After isolating him in his hotel room, he was taken to the hospital and died Monday night.

Barden, who was with him when he died, said: “Nobody cared, that’s the sad thing. Nobody cared to prosecute an 80-year-old man in these circumstances. They knew about his health and that’s what’s wrong. “

John Pat Cunningham was shot in the back while fleeing an army patrol in a field near Benburb 47 years ago.

The Northern Ireland prosecution said the decision to bring the soldier to trial was in the public interest.

The trial has reignited controversy over the government’s plans to offer an amnesty for historic crimes involving veterans, and some think Hutchings’ death may accelerate his progress through parliament.

The deputy chief prosecutor in Northern Ireland, Michael Agnew, said the decision to prosecute was made “after an impartial and independent application of the evidence for prosecution.”

“While a review of a previous non-prosecution decision does not require the existence of new evidence, the police investigation in this case resulted in a file that was submitted to the PPS, which included certain evidence that was not previously available,” added Agnew.

In a statement on behalf of Cunningham’s family, the Pat Finucane Center, a human rights group, said they wanted to “acknowledge that this is a difficult time for [Hutchings’] family and give them time to cry ”.

They said they would give a more detailed answer at a more appropriate time, but it was “factually inaccurate to claim that this prosecution was politically motivated and was part of a fictitious ‘witch hunt’ against British soldiers. This assertion by high-ranking politicians calls into question the professional integrity, independence and impartiality of those involved in the recent investigation and prosecution ”.

They added that sections of the British press and within the trade unionism that had commented that the victim was an Irish Catholic deviated from the reality of the case, which was that he was an innocent victim. “What a shame,” the statement read.

The court had heard that Cunningham was “born with incomplete mental development” and was said to “have the mind of a seven-year-old.” He was known to be “anxious with the uniformed men, and was known to have fled from the army, the police and the priests.”

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said “serious questions must be raised” about the decision to prosecute, adding that Hutchings had been “taken to court and persecuted until his death.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie called for an independent review of the indictment, questioning whether the trial had expedited Hutchings’ death.

Earlier this year, Hutchings, of Cawsand, Torpoint, in Cornwall, said he was planning a case alleging a human rights violation.

“It’s too late for me [not to face trial] But it is not too late for the government to do the right thing for all those veterans who served to keep the peace in Northern Ireland and who continue to live in fear of someone knocking on the door. But if the government does not act and listen to the veterans and the British people, then I hope that Strasbourg will, ”Hutchings said at the time.

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who has campaigned against prosecutions for inherited murders and had traveled to Belfast to support the former soldier, had called the trial a “grotesque experience” for Hutchings.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Our condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Dennis Hutchings. The Ministry of Defense supported Mr. Hutchings throughout the trial with legal representation and pastoral care, and that will continue to be offered to his family. “


www.theguardian.com

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