Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings, now 77, brandishes the MoD letter clearing him in 1974
Nearly 300 troops could face trials over historic incidents during The Troubles, even though more than 200 suspected IRA terrorists have had letters telling them they were no longer wanted by police.
Former Regimental Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings, 77, warned: “There is no way any service personnel will get a fair trial in Northern Ireland.
“I have been through three years of going in and out of various courts and every time you get stitched up.
“From the very beginning of my case it should have been thrown out but they won’t do that because there’s political pressure.”
Mr Hutchings showed the Daily Express a letter he received from the Ministry of Defence in November 1974, clearing him of any wrongdoing.
It stated there had been a joint police and military investigation and there would be no prosecution of any military personnel arising from the incident.
The great-grandfather denies charges of attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm with intent, relating to the death of John Pat Cunningham, 27, who was unarmed and had learning difficulties, in Co Tyrone in June 1974. He was shot in the back as he ran away from an Army patrol.
Mr Hutchings, from Cawsand, Cornwall, who suffers from kidney and heart disease and has an aneurysm, said the case was also investigated and thrown out in 2014.
But it has been revived, and last week his latest bid to have the case dismissed was turned down in Belfast Crown Court.
The next day the Government launched a consultation on “legacy” issues and abandoned its pledge to include an amnesty for former soldiers for actions during The Troubles.
Soldier guards Belfast homes IRA bombed in 1971
I am the only one left alive that they can charge
Next month two former British paratroopers, known only as Soldiers A and C for their own safety, are due in Belfast Crown Court charged with the murder of a known IRA gunman, Joe McCann, 24, more than 40 years ago.
The files of 18 British soldiers and two Official IRA men are also under consideration over the Bloody Sunday massacre when British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in Londonderry in 1972.
Mr Hutchings said: “We were there doing a job. Unfortunately things happen. Regarding this incident a young man got killed, not by me, I might add.
“But I am the only one left alive that they can charge.”
He warned he could pave the way to a whole raft of “legacy” cases.
He said: “There are another 301 guys behind me. They are using me to see how it goes to get to the other ones.”
He praised former head of the Army General Lord Dannatt, who spoke out in his defence in the Daily Express last week.
He said: “The way politicians have reacted makes my blood boil. Tony Blair has hung us out to dry.”
Yesterday Lord Dannatt said: “It is unfair 44 years later to put an old man through all this.”
And a former comrade said: “He’s a good man. Governments of both parties have washed their hands of the lads.”
Former Army chief Gen Lord Dannatt
Soldiers ‘face witch hunt funded by public purse’
British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland are facing a “witch hunt”, MPs were told yesterday.
In a special debate on the pursuit of old soldiers through the courts, former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon described the reopening of cases as “morally wrong”.
He said: “We should not be reopening cases that have not only been investigated previously but those where the suspects have been told that the case has been concluded – that the investigation is over. It is morally wrong that people should have these cases reopened all over again.”
Sir Michael said a number of potential suspects are now elderly and “fearful”.
Fellow Tory Bob Stewart, a former Army officer, said: “I’m afraid I’m coming to the view that the Government is resorting to craven appeasement of Sinn Fein.
“It is scapegoating a few old soldiers. Is this a price worth paying? My God it’s not.
“How can our Government mollify Sinn Fein, using old men who ran huge risks for all of us as collateral? Have we lost our sense of decency?”
Democratic Unionist Party MP Jim Shannon said: “What we are increasingly seeing here is to all intents and purposes a private vendetta against security forces becoming a witch hunt funded by the public purse.”
Dennis Hutchings’ South East Cornwall Conservative MP Sheryll Murray said he had “suffered enough”.
She added: “He is a hero who did his job. Let him go free.”
Sir Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP
COMMENT – Sir Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP
The recent arrest and charges of attempted murder against Regimental Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings have caused major public outrage.
Along with tens of thousands of other brave veterans, he served his time in Northern Ireland with total professionalism and distinction.
The killing of John Pat Cunningham in June 1974 was a tragic mistake, but neither Dennis Hutchings nor the others in the patrol were to know that he was not posing an immediate threat to their lives.
The case has been fully investigated on a number of occasions and to drag the great grandfather into court when two of the other key witnesses in the patrol have since died and where memories have obviously dimmed, is a travesty of British justice.
All of this runs contrary to what the Prime Minister said a few months ago and pledges made by various defence ministers.
It is absolutely outrageous to try to claim some sort of parity between servants of the Crown who behaved in good faith on the one hand and terrorists and paramilitaries whose sole aim was to kill as many people as possible.
Any other grown-up country in the world would find a way of moving on.
This is not just about Dennis Hutchings. It could affect hundreds of other ex-servicemen.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s legacy branch is investigating 923 cases of which 283 involve the Security Forces, mostly the Army.
Unless the Government gets a grip on this they will all be investigated and you will have men probably older than Dennis being subject to dawn raids and being dragged back to Northern Ireland.
These men cannot get a fair hearing. In peacetime soldiers choose to serve and put their lives on the line for Queen and country.
These soldiers are being betrayed and hung out to dry. The only solution is to have a statute of limitations for all veterans in any theatre anywhere in the world.
It should be retrospective and extend back five years unless there is compelling new evidence. This could all cost hundreds of millions of pounds. The Government must stop this now.