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Soldier Dennis Hutchings dies while on trial over shooting of John Pat Cunningham in 1974

FORMER British soldier Dennis Hutchings has died in a Belfast hospital while on trial over the killing of John Pat Cunningham in 1974.

Mr Hutchings, who was 80, had pleaded not guilty at Belfast Crown Court to the attempted murder of Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning difficulties who was shot in the back as he ran away.

As two soldiers — one already now deceased — had fired at Cunningham and there was insufficient evidence to show who had fired the killing bullet, the charge was of attempted murder only.

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service defended the decision to prosecute, pointing to the seriousness of the charge.

Supporters of Mr Hutchings had claimed he was being “hounded” and oppose the prosecution of soldiers for crimes committed during the Troubles.

Deputy director of public prosecutions Michael Agnew said all decision-making regarding the case had been impartial and “our thoughts are also with the family of John Pat Cunningham, who have waited for many decades in the hope of seeing due process take its course.”

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