Soldier said his gun was used in 1974 shooting in Co Armagh

Dennis Hutchings (75) accused of attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham (27)

Undated family handout  photograph of John-Pat Cunningham.  Mr Cunningham (27), who had learning difficulties, was shot by the British Army in a field in Benburb, Co Armagh in 1974. File photograph: PA Wire

Undated family handout photograph of John-Pat Cunningham. Mr Cunningham (27), who had learning difficulties, was shot by the British Army in a field in Benburb, Co Armagh in 1974. File photograph: PA Wire

 

A retired British soldier charged in connection with a 1974 shooting in Northern Ireland told military police his gun had been used during the incident, a court heard on Monday.

Dennis Hutchings, (75), appeared in court in Co Armagh accused of the attempted murder of a man with learning difficulties more than 40 years ago.

John-Pat Cunningham, (27), was shot dead by an Army patrol in June, 1974.

Hutchings, of New Road, Cawsand, Torpoint in Cornwall, England is also facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Cunningham.

During a preliminary inquiry at Armagh Magistrates’ Court, a retired member of the Royal Military Police said he had seized Hutchings’ self-loading rifle after the shooting because the defendant had told him it had been used.

Alan Mews, who was on duty on the day of the incident, was asked by a prosecution lawyer if he had suspected the rifle had been used.

He replied: “I was told it was used.”

“Who told you?”

Mr Mews responded: “The defendant.”

He told the court he had received a radio call on the day of Mr Cunningham’s death from the operational unit and asked to attend the scene.

He said when he arrived he entered a field with a local priest. “I walked 200 yards then I saw the body of John-Pat Cunningham. I had a conversation with the priest then returned to the vehicle.

“I spoke to the soldiers involved and took possession of a self-loading rifle along with a magazine from Colour Sergeant Hutchings,” added Mr Mews.

A second retired member of the Royal Military Police, John Cooper, told the court he had no recollection of attending the scene of the shooting or taking statements from two soldiers.

When shown a statement he had written about the shooting in June 1974 he said it “makes no difference at all” (to his memory).

He also said he had “no idea” who the two soldiers were that he had interviewed after the shooting.

Earlier, the court was told Hutchings is suffering from ill health.

Requesting breaks throughout proceedings, a defence lawyer said: “He is not a well man. He has kidney failure. In a matter of months he will be on dialysis. He will be in hospital for five hours every day.”

Hutchings, who appeared to be in good spirits as he entered court on Monday, was charged in connection with the shooting of Mr Cunningham following a fresh investigation into his death in 2013.

Mr Cunningham, who had the mental age of a child between six and 10, had a fear of men in uniform and was running away from an Army patrol when he was killed close to Benburb, a village on the border between counties Armagh and Tyrone.

The 2013 investigation was launched after the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland requested a fresh examination of the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

– PA