Ex-soldier is 'flight risk' says DPP solicitor

John Pat Cunningham
John Pat Cunningham

A retired British soldier charged in connection with a 1974 shooting in Northern Ireland has asked a court for permission to go on a cruise with his wife.

Dennis Hutchings, 75, wants his bail conditions varied so he can go on the holiday ahead of a preliminary hearing into the case against him.

The court in Armagh, Northern Ireland, was told that Hutchings' health was deteriorating and he wanted a chance to go on a cruise with his wife in February.

A district judge has asked for further medical advice before making a decision.

Hutchings is 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, is also facing a charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Cunningham. He is due to attend a preliminary investigation in Northern Ireland in March.

A defence lawyer has asked Armagh Magistrates Court to amend Hutchings' bail conditions to permit him to go on the holiday in a few weeks.

The lawyer said the defendant's health is deteriorating and that "the window to take that much-desired cruise with his wife is closing".

"Mr Hutchings is a 75-year-old man, soon to be 76. He comes before the court with impeccable character and he lives a settled family life in the South of England. (We are asking) to vary bail to allow Mr Hutchings to go on a cruise with his wife if his health permits it," his lawyer said.

"To suggest that Mr Hutchings represents a flight risk is an outrageous suggestion. I have no doubt that the family of the deceased want to ensure there's no further slippage. This is a case that is 42 years old. (But) there is absolutely no basis not to allow Mr Hutchings to go on a cruise."

A solicitor for Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said there were concerns that Hutchings posed a flight risk and that if he went on the cruise, it could delay committal proceedings, which are due to take place on March 20.

District Judge Harry McKibbon said if he could be sure the cruise would not affect the defendant's health to attend committal, he would be "very sympathetic" to amending bail.

The case was adjourned for one week for a medical report to be produced.

Hutchings was not in court for the hearing. He was excused from attending due to his ill health.

Hutchings 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 Government apologised for his death two years ago.

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