Mourners attend funeral of British army veteran Dennis Hutchings

Former British soldier was facing trial over fatal shooting incident in Co Tyrone in 1974

Members of the British military acting as the bearer party carry the coffin from the funeral of Dennis Hutchings. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Members of the British military acting as the bearer party carry the coffin from the funeral of Dennis Hutchings. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

 

The funeral of British army veteran Dennis Hutchings have heard his military career was “remembered and respected” despite what were described at the service as attempts to “rewrite history”.

The 80-year-old, from Cawsand in Cornwall, died in Belfast last month after contracting Covid-19 while he was in the city to face trial over a fatal shooting in Co Tyrone in 1974.

Mr Hutchings had pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham.

Mr Cunningham, who was 27, was a vulnerable adult with learning difficulties who was afraid of soldiers. He was shot and killed as he ran away from a British army patrol.

The case had become the focus of attention in recent years as a number of other prosecutions were announced against British army veterans over deaths which took place during the Troubles.

The funeral service, which took place in Plymouth on Thursday afternoon, saw dozens of motorbikes from Rolling Thunder UK accompanying the coffin as part of the cortege. Rolling Thunder UK campaigns on behalf of former British soldiers who were in Northern Ireland, claiming on its website that “prosecutions are being driven by Irish Republicans”.

Former British veterans minister Johnny Mercer, who knew Mr Hutchings, paid tribute to his military service in an address.

“We gather today to remember a great man. I want to pay him a fulsome tribute,” Mr Mercer said.

“I want to pay tribute to his family, I want to remember and pay tribute to his service to this nation and I want to pay tribute to what he represented both in his life and in his passing.”

The Plymouth MP said to Mr Hutchings’ family: “I know the last few years has at times felt lonely, I do not intend to speak about why that was.

“But let me ask you to look around you today, look at what Dennis meant, look at the efforts of those who are gathered here today from across this country to remember a great man.

“Look at these things and know how much Dennis is loved, how much his service was remembered and respected and feel the love of a grateful nation.”

Referring to British army veterans who were in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Mr Mercer went on to say: “I must tell you that I’m not proud of how we currently remember those who served in that appalling conflict, trying to prevent a bloody civil war.

“We can be too quick to forget or indeed cower by the rewriting of history into some misplaced shame — the awesome sacrifice and service of our veterans in trying to keep the peace in Northern Ireland.

“I know these feelings can intensify when we see the grotesque spectacle of what happened to Dennis in a Belfast courtroom.”

Hundreds of people in military clothing lined a road and applauded and saluted as the coffin went by, before it was carried into St Andrew’s Church in the Devon city by military pallbearers to the sounds of the Life Guards Slow March.

Bikers revved and sounded their horns as they arrived close to the church as police blocked off the road.

British military flags were held up as the coffin went by and wreaths were laid outside the church.

The coffin was draped in a union flag, with floral tributes and a military hat.

Family and friends of Mr Hutchings began to enter St Andrew’s Church at 12pm before the service was opened by the Rev Joe Dent.

People wearing berets, medals and poppies had waited outside for a number of hours.

Written in the order of service was the message: “Dennis’s family wish to express their sincere thanks to all those who have sent cards and messages of condolence, and for your presence at the funeral service today.”

Rolling Thunder UK said on its website it was “very proud” to have been asked to organise the escort for the funeral cortege. - PA