Northern Ireland

Dennis Hutchings to stand trial over 1974 Army killing

Dennis Hutchings Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Mr Hutchings was in charge of the Army patrol on the day Mr Cunningham was shot

A 76-year-old former soldier will stand trial over the death of a vulnerable man in 1974, a judge has ruled.

Dennis Hutchings, who lives in Cornwall, is due to be formally charged with attempted murder on Friday.

John Patrick Cunningham, 27, who had learning difficulties, was shot in the back as he ran away from an Army patrol near Benburb in County Armagh.

Mr Hutchings and another soldier had both fired their guns but it is not known who fired the fatal bullet.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption John Pat Cunningham was 27 at the time of his death but had a mental age of between six and 10

During earlier hearings, the court was also told that Mr Hutchings - referred to as Soldier A - and the now deceased Soldier B had discharged a total of five shots.

Mr Hutchings' legal team argued that "no reasonable jury could convict" either soldier as being the one who fired the fatal shot.

However, the prosecution said Mr Hutchings - who was in charge of the Army patrol that day - fired three shots, and that he failed to give a correct warning to Mr Cunningham.

Announcing his decision, Mr Justice Treacy said the evidence indicated a case sufficient to justify putting the defendant on trial for attempted murder.

Mr Hutchings, who was excused from attending Belfast Crown Court, is expected to return to Northern Ireland later this week.

Mr Cunningham was described in court as an innocent, vulnerable and unarmed man who had a fear of people in uniform, including soldiers, policemen and priests.

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 into the field.