DUP MP praises ‘bravery and sacrifice’ of attempted murder accused Dennis Hutchings as supporters appear at court

DUP MP Carl Lockhart warmly greeted Dennis Hutchings today, as attempted murder proceedings against the former soldier got under way.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 7:48 pm
Updated Monday, 4th October 2021, 8:00 pm
Army veteran Dennis Hutchings and Conservative MP Johnny Mercer pictured outside Belfast court with Carla Lockhart Democratic Unionist Party MP. Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker Press.

The Upper Bann MP was joined by Tory MP and ex-Army captain Johnny Mercer, formerly a junior minister in the MoD.

Other supporters with flags bearing Mr Hutchings’ face assembled at Belfast Laganside Court complex, where the Diplock (non-jury) trial has begun of the former soldier with Life Guards regiment.

Mr Hutchings denies attempted murder and attempted GBH.

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He is accused of opening fire at 27-year-old mentally-impaired civilian JP Cunningham, as he ran away from an Army patrol in the countryside near Benburb in 1974.

Ms Lockhart issued a statement which said: “Ninety per cent of deaths in the Troubles were the result of deliberate actions by terrorists to take innocent life. No amount of legal actions against the soldiers who defended democracy will rewrite the facts of history.

“Before the court today is an 80-year-old great grandfather. A man who has been given six months to live by his consultant because of his deteriorating health.

“He refused to accept a medical exemption to appear here. He wants to face his accusers and prove his innocence once again.

“Such bravery and sacrifice are reflective of the commitment amongst our armed forces family to stand tall against the vexatious prosecutions brought against them by those who have an insatiable lust to see soldiers in the dock.

“People must always have access to justice. But when people have been investigated, cleared and reinvestigated and cleared again, the unrelenting torrent of legal actions against soldiers becomes more about rewriting history than about securing justice.”

She also said in a tweet: “Honoured to support Dennis Hutchings today.

“A man of 80 years old, with severe heart and kidney problems, being dragged before the courts to appease Republicans.

“The same Republicans who are safe in the knowledge they will never be before the courts for heinous crimes.”

Mr Mercer said on Twitter: “Four years ago, the then PM promised to end ‘witch-hunts” against veterans, to deafening cheers. But this morning Dennis’ trial starts, so I’ll be with him in court. I think it’s important we keep our promises.”

Sinn Fein MP John Finucane accused Ms Lockhart of “disgraceful” commentary, saying she “misrepresents how and why prosecutions are taken; it’s called due process and nobody is above the law, even ex-British veterans”.

He said the remarks “should be withdrawn immediately and in future some thought should be given to JP Cunningham and his family”.

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