Protest group attends trial into killing of Benburb man

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A protest group, campaigning against the prosecution of former soldiers for killings during the Troubles, has gathered at the trial of a Cornwall man accused of the attempted murder of a South Tyrone man with learning difficulties.

The group congregated at the Crown Court in Belfast on Friday morning and then sat in the public gallery throughout the three-hour hearing into the circumstances surrounding the death of unarmed John Pat Cunningham.

At the hearing, lawyers for Denis Hutchings, the former British soldier who is accused of firing three times at Cunningham, asked the crown court judge to throw out the case against him.

27 year-old Cunningham was shot dead by an Army patrol in June 1974 at Benburb, close to the border between counties Tyrone and Armagh.

The legal team told the judge there was no evidence to prove that 75-year-old Hutchings had used force unlawfully.

As well as attempted murder, Hutchings, is also facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Cunningham.

A prosecution lawyer had told a preliminary inquiry at Armagh Magistrates’ Court that Hutchings chased Mr Cunningham across a field and fired his weapon three times.

He said it was possible that it was Hutchings who shot Mr Cunningham, but added it was “equally possible” the fatal shots were fired by a second man, referred to as Soldier B.

The legal team applied to the judge to dismiss the charges against him, citing a lack of evidence.

Hutchings sat in the dock with a hearing device to listen to the application from his legal team.

The court was told that Mr Cunningham was a vulnerable adult with a fear of people in uniform.

He was running away from an Army patrol when he was shot in the back, the court heard.

Hutchings was the most senior soldier in the patrol. Another soldier, referred to as Soldier B and who is now dead, fired two shots during the incident, the court was told.

The barrister admitted that with no forensic evidence he could not say if the fatal shot was fired by Hutchings or by Soldier B. A defence barrister said there is “no evidence whatsoever” that Hutchings fired any shots.

Mr Justice Treacy told the court he needed some time to consider the arguments before making a ruling in the application.

The case was adjourned to a date to be fixed.