Fresh investigation into 1974 murder of Catholic man in Benburb

The scene in Carrickaness Road, Benburb on June 15 1974 following the shooting of John Pat Cunningham

The scene in Carrickaness Road, Benburb on June 15 1974 following the shooting of John Pat Cunningham

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A murder investigation has been launched into the killing of a vulnerable man more than 40 years ago.

John Pat Cunningham was shot by an Army patrol near his home in June 1974.

Undated family handout photo of John Pat Cunningham.

Undated family handout photo of John Pat Cunningham.

The 27-year-old Catholic, who had a mental age of between six and 10 and was afraid of uniformed soldiers, was hit three times as he ran from a patrol near Carrickness, Benburb in Co Tyrone.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Inspector Neil McGuinness, who is leading the murder hunt, said: “Our objective is to get to the truth of what happened that Saturday morning so that justice can be served.”

The case was re-opened by the PSNI’s legacy investigation branch.

The decision to launch a murder investigation was taken after a review of the available evidence, the PSNI said.

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

Mr McGuinness said they now needed help from the public to proceed.

He added: “We have now reached a point where it is appropriate and necessary to ask for assistance from not only the local community in Benburb but also from people who may have moved away from the area or are in other parts of the world, if the investigation is to be fully progressed.

“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.”

Officers want to hear from people who knew Mr Cunningham, anyone who saw previous encounters between him and soldiers, and anyone who witnessed the fatal shooting.

At an inquest the family doctor said he had come across soldiers pushing John Pat Cunningham into a Saracen armoured car a year earlier after finding him hiding in bushes.

Last year the family received an apology from the Ministry of Defence after the Historical Enquiries Team - which was set up to look at Troubles-related cold cases - concluded that Mr Cunningham’s death was a tragedy that should not have happened.

Detectives are expected to be deployed to Benburb to speak with members of the local community.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the PSNI on 028 9258 9140 or 07585 228 283.

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Mr Cunningham’s family said they had no confidence in the PSNI’s legacy investigation’s unit.

In a statement released through the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), they claimed the new murder hunt may jeopardise a new, independent inquiry under the proposed Historical Investigations Unit proposed in the Stormont House Agreement.

The statement added: “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 PFC to attend a recent meeting to inform them that they had no confidence in this investigation.

“We fear that this appeal is being made by the PSNI for public relations purposes.”