Veteran Dennis Hutchings starts legal challenge against ‘discriminatory prosecutions’ of ex-soldiers

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings (left), who has been charged over the fatal 1974 shooting of a man in Northern Ireland, takes part in a protest to call for an end to prosecutions of veterans who served during the Troubles, on Horse Guards Parade, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 16, 2017. See PA story PROTEST Soldier. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings (left), who has been charged over the fatal 1974 shooting of a man in Northern Ireland, takes part in a protest to call for an end to prosecutions of veterans who served during the Troubles, on Horse Guards Parade, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 16, 2017. See PA story PROTEST Soldier. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

An ex-soldier who is being prosecuted for attempted murder has launched a legal challenge to end the “discriminatory prosecution” of Troubles veterans.

Dennis Hutchings, who is almost 80, served in the Army for 26 years and is being prosecuted for the attempted murder of John Patrick Cunningham in 1974.

The 27-year-old, who had learning difficulties and was afraid of soldiers, was shot in the back while running away from an Army patrol in Benburb.

Previous investigations concluded that no action should be taken against Mr Hutchings, but he now faces trial on March 9.

In a statement, his legal team said terrorists have been granted “effective amnesties” but that Army veterans have been “targeted in disproportionate numbers” and are now 54 times more likely to be prosecuted.

The government has promised legislation by April 18 to address legacy issues, but any action will come too late for Mr Hutchings, they said.

Led by barrister Dr Austen Morgan, Mr Hutchings’ legal team have written to the secretary of state calling on the government to fulfil election promises to give “veterans who served in the Troubles … the protection they deserve”. If there is no response by February 19 they will begin a legal challenge on the matter.

They noted that during the Troubles, republicans carried out 2,200 murders, while soldiers claimed almost 240 lives – the vast majority lawful killings. But disproportionately, they said, since 2007 almost exactly the same number of ex-soldiers and republicans have faced prosecution for pre-1998 killings – six and seven respectively.

But Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon responded that there can be no immunity for current or former soldiers.

“British soldiers cannot be placed above the law,” she said. “Any attempt to create immunity for current or former British soldiers is unacceptable.”

Suggestions that the “British Crown Prosecution Service” is unfairly prosecuting veterans is “frankly preposterous” she said.

Legacy mechanisms were agreed by Dublin and London in the Stormont House Agreement and must now be implemented “in full in a human rights compliant manner” she added.

The Northern Ireland Office said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings. “The prime minister has been clear that the government will end vexatious prosecutions of veterans, and that we will implement the Stormont House agreement in a way that provides certainty for veterans and justice for victims,” it added.