FORMER CORPORAL-MAJOR Dennis Hutchings, who passed away in October, was due to stand trial for ‘attempting to murder’ John Pat Cunningham – a 27 year-old man with learning difficulties – in 1974.
Originally from Cawsand in Cornwall, Mr Hutchings contracted COVID-19 whilst awaiting trial in Belfast and eventually succumbed to the illness after a previous battle with kidney failure.
The Ministry of Defence has today announced that it will provide the 80 year-old with military honours, including official pallbearers, despite the fact that the MoD does not normally provide these services for retired personnel.
However, after Mr Hutchings’ family lodged a formal request with the former soldier’s Life Guard regiment for members to attend, it seems that the military eventually capitulated to demand.
A spokesperson for the army said of the decision: “Mr Hutchings served for many years with great dignity, diligence and courage.
“His passing is a personal tragedy for his family, regimental family and his friends, and we extend our sincere condolences to all that knew and cared for him.
“The army was formally approached to provide a bearer party for the funeral on Friday; this request was actioned in line with policy.
“As a mark of respect to Mr Hutchings his service and his family, the decision was made today by the army to support the request. His former regiment will provide a bearer party and trumpeter at his funeral.”
The accused former-soldier’s funeral will take place on Thursday 11th November – Remembrance Day – in Plymouth.
Mr Hutchings’ death became a cause celebre for unionist politicians who questioned the decision of Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecutions Service to bring him to trial almost 50 years after the crime.
As campaigners for Mr Cunningham’s family have pointed out, however, there is no statute of limitations on either murder or ‘attempt to murder’ and military status should not be allowed to cloud judgement on the PPS’s decision to prosecute.