The lawyer for a terminally ill 80-year-old army veteran who died of Covid-19 three days after a trial began over a fatal shooting during the unrest in Northern Ireland, said the proceedings had contributed to his death.
Philip Barden, who acted for Dennis Hutchings, said he would be “alive today” if he had not been forced to travel to Northern Ireland to stand trial for the murder of a man 27 years old with learning difficulties in 1974.
The trial in Belfast Crown Court had been adjourned on Monday after it emerged that Hutchings – who suffered from kidney disease, was on dialysis and also suffered from heart problems – had contracted the virus over the weekend. end.
After isolating himself in his hotel room, he was rushed to hospital and died Monday evening.
Barden, who was with him when he died, said: “Nobody cared, that’s what is so sad. No one cared to bring an 80-year-old man to justice under these circumstances. They knew about his condition and that is what is wrong.
John Pat Cunningham was shot in the back while fleeing an army patrol in a field near Benburb 47 years ago.
The Northern Ireland prosecutor’s office said the decision to bring the soldier to justice was in the public interest.
The lawsuit has rekindled controversy over the government’s plans to offer amnesty for historic crimes involving veterans and some believe Hutchings’ death could hasten his progress in parliament.
The Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, Michael Agnew, said the decision to prosecute was “taken after an impartial and independent application of the prosecution test”.
“While a review of a previous decision not to prosecute does not require the existence of new evidence, the police investigation into this case resulted in the submission of a file to the PPS, which included some previously unavailable evidence. “, added Agnew.
In a statement on behalf of Cunningham’s family, the Pat Finucane Center, a human rights group, said it wanted to “recognize that these are difficult times for [Hutchings’] family and that they should have time to mourn ”.
They said they would issue a more detailed response at a more appropriate time, but it was “in fact inaccurate to allege that these prosecutions were politically motivated and part of a fictitious” witch hunt “against the British soldiers. This statement by senior politicians calls into question the professional integrity, independence and impartiality of those involved in recent investigations and prosecutions. “
They added that sections of the British press and within trade unionism which had declared the victim to be an Irish Catholic had turned away from the reality of the case, namely that he was an innocent victim. “Shame on them,” the statement said.
The court had heard that Cunningham was “born with incomplete mental development” and that he “would have the mind of a child of seven”. He was known to be “anxious about the men in uniform and for having fled the army, the police and the priests”.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said “serious questions must be raised” about the decision to prosecute, adding that Hutchings had been “taken to court and hunted to death”.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie called for an independent review of the prosecution, questioning whether the trial precipitated Hutchings’ death.
Earlier this year Hutchings, of Cawsand, Torpoint, Cornwall, said he was preparing a case alleging a human rights violation.
“It’s too late for me [not to face trial] but it is not too late for the government to do the right thing for all those veterans who served to keep the peace in Northern Ireland and who continue to live in fear of being knocked on the door. But if the government doesn’t act or listen to veterans and the British people, then I hope Strasbourg will, ”Hutchings said at the time.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who campaigned against the legacy murder lawsuits and traveled to Belfast to support the ex-soldier, called the trial a “grotesque experience” for Hutchings.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends and relatives of Dennis Hutchings. The Department of Defense supported Mr Hutchings throughout his trial with legal representation and pastoral care, and that will continue to be offered to his family.