Northern Ireland

John Pat Cunningham: Fresh appeal over 1974 killing by Army in Benburb

Carrickaness Road in Benburb, County Tyrone, on 15 June 1974 Image copyright PSNI
Image caption The scene at Carrickaness Road in Benburb, County Tyrone, on 15 June 1974

Police have made a fresh appeal for information about the killing of a man who was shot dead by soldiers in County Armagh more than 40 years ago.

John Pat Cunningham, who was 27, was killed near Milltown on 15 June 1974.

The case has been reopened by the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch and a murder investigation has begun.

But the victim's family said they have no confidence in the PSNI and want an "independent" inquiry by the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

'Regrettable'

The Cunningham family have refused to co-operate with the PSNI appeal, fearing it could rule out a future HIU investigation.

The officer leading the investigation, Det Insp Neil McGuinness, said he was aware of the family's concerns and described it as "regrettable".

"My goal is to get justice for John Pat and his family and the community of Benburb," the office told BBC Radio Ulster.

Detectives from the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch reopened the case after an assessment of the available evidence and Mr McGuinness said police had already made a number of enquiries about the circumstances surrounding the killing.

He said they had now reached a point where it was "appropriate and necessary" to ask for help from the local community in Benburb and those "who may have moved away from the area or are in other parts of the world".

'Truth'

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Media captionDetective Inspector Neil McGuinness said the investigation will be independent and thorough

"I appreciate this happened more than 40 years ago, but I believe there are people in the community today who remember this tragic incident, who knew John Pat and who may have information which would be of assistance to the investigation," he said.

"Our objective is to get to the truth of what happened that Saturday morning so that justice can be served.

"I have three particular areas where I think members of the community may be able to help. Firstly, I would like to speak to people who knew John Pat, what sort of a young man he was, his interests, his lifestyle, his concerns.

"Secondly, I want to speak to anyone who has knowledge of any previous encounters or incidents involving John Pat and soldiers. It doesn't matter what these were or what they amounted to - I just need to know about them.

"Finally, I would like to speak to anyone who was a witness to the fatal shooting itself at Carrickaness, Benburb at 11.50am on Saturday, 15 June 1974, who has information about the incident or who engaged with soldiers at the time."

In a statement released via the Pat Finucane Centre, the Cunningham family said they believed the PSNI should not be attempting to investigate John Pat's murder.

'No confidence'

It said that it feared that, if "the PSNI opens a reinvestigation now, it will rule out a new, independent inquiry under the proposed Historical Investigations Unit proposed in the Stormont House Agreement."

The family also said they had no confidence in the PSNI's "Legacy Investigations Branch".

"This is because of its lack of independence and failure to comply with Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights," it said.

"The Cunningham family were not informed this appeal was being made today. They first heard about it through the media.

"Last week, they were asked through their legal representative to provide a photograph but refused to do so, telling the PSNI that they did not wish to be involved in this appeal.

"The family have never met with the PSNI and asked the Pat Finucane Centre to attend a recent meeting to inform them that they had no confidence in this investigation."

Police have asked anyone who thinks they can help to contact them on 02892 589140 or 07585 228 283.

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