British Army

Outrage after police raid home of 74-year-old Northern Ireland veteran who faces new charges

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Dennis Hutchings has now spoken publicly of how 18 police officers were sent to arrest him for attempted murder – an incident that dates back to while he was serving on the front line in Northern Ireland.

John Pat Cunningham, 27, who had learning difficulties, was shot in the back as he ran away from an Army patrol near Benburb, County Tyrone, in 1974.

Two previous investigations had cleared Mr Hutchings of any wrongdoing. The frail veteran, who suffers from serious heart, kidney and prostate problems, told how his nightmare began early one morning in spring 2015 when he was cooking breakfast for his family in Cornwall.

There was a knock on the door and he found 18 policemen on his doorstep. He was arrested, charged with murder and his house was searched in front of his bemused family before he was dragged off to Belfast.

He was grilled for nearly four days and now fellow veterans are living in fear of the witch-hunt over allegations of wrongdoing on active service.

Each interview, he said, was “aggressive” and lasted about 45 minutes with as little as five minute breaks in between.

In an interview for a documentary, The Great Betrayal, being produced by Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans, Mr Hutchings said: “The general approach was that they wanted me to lose my rag and admit I did it. They were just putting pressure on me all the time.”

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He denies charges of attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

He said: “This has nothing to do with the law. It is purely political. It is our Government terrified of upsetting Sinn Fein.”

He contrasted his treatment with that given to IRA suspects handed Letters of Comfort by Tony Blair.

Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement 300 IRA terrorists were freed from prison early and about 150 suspects were given Letters of Comfort guaranteeing they would not be prosecuted.

He said: “My letter was very similar to the letters given to the IRA by Tony Blair but mine does not count…because I am a soldier and I am English.”

He added: “The Government is a shambles. There should be a statute of limitations, no doubt about it.

“My witnesses of the incident are all dead. I have no witnesses. I cannot use my witnesses to defend me. This is the same in many, many cases. You cannot drag a case like this through the courts 40-odd years later. It is absolutely ridiculous. We went to Northern Ireland to help people and uphold the law. We did not go there to kill people. We went to stop them killing each other.”

Tory MP Sir Henry Bellingham said Mr Hutchings had been treated “abominably”.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who served several tours in Northern Ireland, said: “This is absolutely despicable. It is nothing less than a betrayal of our servicemen. Never in history has any Government turned on its own troops in this way.”

Earlier this month veterans, including Mr Hutchings, marched to Parliament to protest at their betrayal by ministers, some carrying copies of the Daily Express which is leading a crusade to protect troops from prosecution.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “It is right that we hold our Armed Forces to the highest standards and we have a legal obligation to investigate credible allegations of wrongdoing.

The welfare of our personnel and veterans is of the utmost importance.”

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