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Dying former soldier given guard of honour as he pleads not guilty to killing Northern Irish man during the Troubles

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 26/09/2019 Victoria Ward

A dying former soldier was given a guard of honour as he arrived at court on Thursday to plead not guilty to the attempted murder of a Northern Irish man during the Troubles.

Dennis Hutchings, 78, a great grandfather who is suffering kidney and heart failure, will be tried over the death of a 27-year-old man with learning difficulties who was shot in the back as he ran away from a patrol in County Tyrone in 1974. 

He was excused from attending Belfast Crown Court in person due to his ill health, instead appearing via video link from Plymouth Crown Court.

Hundreds of supporters, including many Northern Ireland veterans, turned out to support him as he arrived to be formally arraigned.

There were loud cheers as he entered the court, with cries of "no surrender" and "we love you Dennis".

Mr Hutchings, a former member of the Life Guards regiment, denies firing the fatal shot at John Patrick Cunningham, insisting he only fired into the air. Another soldier who also fired has since died.

The former soldier, from Cawsand, Cornwall, pleaded not guilty to one charge of attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm with intent during the brief hearing.

He said he was “staggered” by the “unbelievable” turnout outside.

“This is a sign to the government what people in this country feel about these witch hunts which they have allowed to go on for years,” he said. 

“They must, must stop it. It is not just me, we are talking about all the servicemen who have been charged.

“I am in palliative care at the moment. I just hope I last long enough to see this through for them.”

In June, the Supreme Court denied Mr Hutchings the right to a trial by jury, deciding his case will be heard by a judge alone - under rules introduced during the Troubles to deal with paramilitary and terrorist offences.

Mr Hutchings has said that by being deprived of a jury trial he is being treated “like a terrorist”.

He told supporters he had no intention of appearing at court when he faces trial next March because he does not recognise the legitimacy of the system.

He warned that by being tried by a judge alone set a precedent for similar cases in the future.

“I am an ex soldier who was sent (to Northern Ireland) by my government and I should have been given a jury trial,” he said.

"They say a jury can be intimidated in Northern Ireland but judges can be intimidated too.”

Among his supporters was Sean Devlin, 58, from Plymouth, who served in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.

He said: "What happened to him could have happened to me. It could have happened to anyone who was out there.

"Dennis is dying and should be allowed to just live out the last part of his life. 

“He should not be dragged through the courts for something that happened 40 years ago when all he did was follow the orders of the politicians in doing his job.”

lan Jones, 70, of Millbrook, Cornwall, said the way Mr Hutchings had been treated was a “disgrace”.

"Every ex-serviceman can be targeted now,” he said. “Nobody knows if they will get the dreaded knock on the door.”

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