Insufficient evidence for attempted murder trial on fatal Army shooting in Benburb

Former British soldier Denis Hutchings
Former British soldier Denis Hutchings

A retired British soldier is to be returned for crown court trial in connection with a fatal 1974 shooting in Benburb, County Tyrone – but will not be tried for attempted murder.

Dennis Hutchings, 75, has been told by Armagh Magistrates Court there is sufficient evidence that could lead a reasonable jury to convict him of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to the 27-year-old victim.

John Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was just 27 when he was shot dead in 1974

John Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was just 27 when he was shot dead in 1974

John-Pat Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot dead by an Army patrol as he ran away close to the village of Benburb in June 1974.

Hutchings was charged with the attempted murder of Mr Cunningham and attempting to cause him grievous bodily harm.

Following a preliminary inquiry, a judge has ruled there is insufficient evidence to return Hutchings for trial for attempted murder.

However, he has been returned for trial for attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

District Judge Alan White said he believed there was "ample evidence" from which a jury could conclude that Hutchings fired three shots at Mr Cunningham.

"When considering the circumstances the soldiers found themselves in and the time they had to reach a decision, I can’t see that any reasonable jury, properly directed, could find beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to kill the deceased as opposed to causing him grievous bodily harm.

"The evidence is sufficient for committal for trial for attempting to cause GBH with intent."

Hutchings, of New Road, Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, was asked to stand in the dock while the charge was read to him.

When asked if he had anything to say in relation to the charge, Hutchings replied: "I have got nothing to say at this stage."

The judge agreed to a defence request to alter Hutchings’ bail conditions so he could go on holiday before his trial.

It was agreed that his passport could be returned to go on the break.

Hutchings was returned for trial to Belfast Crown Court on a date yet to be fixed.