Call for balance in Troubles related cases

Dennis Hutchings at court in Armagh in March.

Dennis Hutchings at court in Armagh in March.

A former soldier turned unionist politician has called for balance in the treatment of cases involving the military during the Troubles.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie was commenting on the latest development in the case of Dennis Hutchings (75) - a former soldier facing charges over the shooting dead of John-Pat Cunningham near Benburb in 1974.

Captain Doug Beattie, at a recent rally in support of veterans in Belfast city centre

Captain Doug Beattie, at a recent rally in support of veterans in Belfast city centre

Mr Beattie said: “The news that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has overturned Armagh Magistrates’ Court findings in the case of Dennis Hutchings is yet another case of imbalance in our ‘Troubles’ related justice system. The Armagh Court found that there was insufficient evidence that could lead to a reasonable jury convicting Dennis Hutchings of attempted murder but instead he would be tried for the lesser offence of attempted Grievous Bodily Harm.

“However as we find out the hand print found at the Kingsmill massacre, which could put an individual at the scene, would not result in any charges we now find out that the PPS relentless persuit of a former British soldier will continue.

“I will be working with Danny Kinnehan on this case to see what we can do to bring balance to our justice system and challenge the PPS and its Director Barra McGrory.”

In conclusion he said: “The UUP does not believe anyone should be above the law but we believe that the law must be balanced, fair and proportionate. There is clear evidence that this may not be the case as former terrorists walk our streets with comfort letters, early release, minimum sentence scheme and royal prerogatives of mercy.”

Prosecutors re-instated attempted murder charges against the elderly soldier on Friday.

In March a judge had said there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charge against Dennis Hutchings over the shooting of John-Pat Cunningham.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) brought back the charge, prompting an outcry among unionist politicians and veterans.

A PPS spokesperson said: “The prosecution can confirm that the indictment presented at the Crown Court in this case includes the charge of attempted murder.

“As this case is currently before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further. All decisions are taken in strict accordance with the PPS Code for Prosecutors.”