Dennis Hutchings, 80, from Cawsand in Cornwall, died in Belfast on Monday. He was defending himself from charges that he had attempted to murder and cause grievous bodily harm to John Pat Cunningham.
On Monday night, loyalist activist Jamie Bryson tweeted, condemning the prosecution and describing Mr Hutching as “a hero”.
In response, another tweeter replied: “Heroes don’t shoot innocent civilians with learning disabilities in the back as they are running away. That’s cowardly behavior in my book. That’s cowardly behaviour in the book of any civilised human being.”
Justice Minister Ms Long ‘liked’ the response which challenged Mr Bryson’s comment.
The loyalist activist later asked if the Justice Minister had undermined Mr Hutchings’ presumption of innocence before the law, as the trial had not produced any verdict.
“I was shocked to find Justice Minister Long ‘liking’ this reply to my tweet,” Mr Bryson said. “As she will be aware the matters she purports to endorse as fact were issues being contested in the trial by Mr Hutchings. It is deeply concerning that the Justice Minister is forsaking the sacred principle of the presumption of innocence to endorse this tweet.
“It would be more appropriate if the Justice Minister were to be robustly pursuing answers from the PPS about who exactly provided advices and thereafter directed that this elderly veteran were to be prosecuted”.
The News Letter contacted the Department of Justice and Ms Long directly for comment about her actions, and whether she had acted impartially.
Ms Long, her party and her department did not offer any comment in response to the News Letter. Instead she tweeted a series of messages to followers on social media, insisting she had only liked the message ‘inadvertently’.
“I made a decision last night to not comment on or engage in the Twitter exchanges about Dennis Hutching’s passing,” she tweeted.
“I did so, because emotions are so raw. I’m conscious there are 2 hurting families; Mr Hutchings’ and John Pat Cunningham’s and I don’t want to add to their pain.
“I’m also conscious of my role as Justice Minister.
“It has been drawn to my attention that whilst scrolling on Twitter I must have inadvertently ‘liked’ a tweet related to the case. When that happens, I remove the unintended like immediately, but it remains on notifications.
“I was reluctant to tweet this clarification, for fear of it leading to the one thing I didn’t want which was adding to the raw grief and pain of two families by drawing further comment. However, as it’s wrongly being used to imply bias in the justice system, I had to do so.”
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