A dying British Army veteran facing trial over the fatal shooting of an IRA suspect more than 40 years ago has condemned his prosecution – as a betrayal.
Great-grandfather Dennis Hutchings, 76, will stand trial over the death of John Pat Cunningham, 27, at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1974.
Mr Hutchings, who is seriously ill and has just a year left to live, served 26 years in the Life Guards with distinction.
But he was charged with attempted murder after the killing was re-examined by police.
The victim, 27, reportedly had the mental age of a child between six and ten, and a fear of men in uniform.
He was said to have been running away from an Army patrol when he was shot in the back close to Benburb, a village on the border between Armagh and Tyrone.
Mr Hutchings, of Cawsand, Cornwall, was prosecuted in connection with the shooting following an investigation into the death in 2013.
It is alleged that he and another soldier both fired their guns but it is not known who fired the fatal bullet.
A previous court heard was told that the second soldier – referred to only as ‘Soldier B’ – fired two shots during the incident but is now dead.
Mr Hutchings was in charge of the Army patrol on the day Mr Cunningham was shot.
He is charged with one count of attempted murder and one of attempted GBH but described the action being taken against him as a complete “shambles.”
He said: “They call it Troubles. It was a war zone.
“You went out on patrol. You could not say 100% ‘I’ll be coming back after this’.
“I think [the prosecution] is an absolute shambles. It just shows how spineless our politicians are. They send you out there to do the job.
“They give you the paperwork to tell you how to do it and totally ignore you once it’s finished.”
The family of Mr Cunningham said they want “some clarification” of what happened.
He was shot dead in a field in Carrickaness Road as he ran away from soldiers who stopped their Land Rover in the area and followed him.
There were more than 3,200 unsolved killings during the Troubles.
But back in 1975 Mr Hutchings was told there would be no further action over Mr Cunningham’s death.
Mr Cunningham’s nephew, Charlie Agnew, said the family had not had an explanation of what happened in more than 40 years.
He said: “The impact on the family has been massive. John Pat had a mental illness, he was a vulnerable adult.
“It’s weighed very heavily on my mother who is now 83.”
Mr Hutchings is expecting to stand trial in Belfast in the new year.