Dennis Hutchings case: Who was shooting victim John Pat Cunningham whose death lay at heart of prosecution?
The entire seven-year legal case leading up to Dennis Hutchings’ trial had its genesis in rural Tyrone in 1974.
On June 15 that day, John Patrick Cunningham (often called John Pat or just JP) was shot to death by members of a British Army patrol.
Here is what the book Lost Lives has to say about his death.
He was one of 303 people killed that year.
The biggest single group of fatalities for 1974 was Catholic civilians (like Mr Cunningham) – with 123 fatalities.
The next biggest group was Protestant civilians, with 51 dead.
Lost Lives describes him as a 27-year-old single man, before going on to state: “A Northern Ireland Office barrister told the inquest into his death that he had been shot dead by a soldier but was not a gunman.
“From Orlit Cottages, Carrickness, Benburb, John Cunningham was described as ‘mentally retarded and afraid of the Army’.
“He ws hit by three bullets while running from a patrol near his home.
“A Benburb doctor said the victim, who was his patient, had been born with an incomplete development of mind, and had been declared a erson requiring special care.
“The doctor said that about a year earlier, near the scene of the shooting, he had come across soldiers pushing John CUnningham into a Saracen armoured car.
“He spoke to the soldiers who said he had been hiding in the bushes and acting suspiciously.
“The doctor said he had told the young man’s mother about the incident and advised her to keep a special watch on her son’s movements, in view of his apprehension towards soldiers and their uniforms.”
The CAIN index of deaths (Conflict Archive on the INternet, run by Ulster University) has a much shorter description of his death, although it gives his age as 26, not 27, and said he had been shot “in disused graveyard near his home”.
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