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Retired soldier to stand trial over 1974 killing of ‘vulnerable’ man in Benburb

Retired soldier fails in bid to 'stay' proceedings

John Pat Cunningham murder scene

A retired soldier will stand trial in relation to the shooting dead of a man with learning difficulties in Benburb almost 44 years ago, a court has directed.

John Pat Cunningham died after members of an Army patrol opened fire in Benburb on Saturday, June 15, 1974.

The 27-year-old was seen as vulnerable and had a mental age of between five and 10 years.

He was shot in the back as he ran from the soldiers.

In 2013, the family received an apology from the Ministry of Defence but they expressed anger that none of the troops had been disciplined.

Former British soldier Dennis Hutchings – now aged 76 – had been charged with attempted murder.

He had attempted to stay proceedings on three grounds – the unavailability of evidence, the delay in bringing the case and his claims of a ‘breach of promise’ given in 1975 that he would not be prosecuted.

Five shots were fired by the accused and another soldier – known as Soldier B – who has since died.

It is not known who fired the fatal shot.

The former soldier – who is described as being in ill health – had previously said he had fired warning shots to try and get Mr Cunningham to stop.

At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday, Mr Justice Colton admitted that he was “uneasy” about a prosecution over 40 years Mr Cunningham was killed, he remained satisfied that a fair trial could be achieved.

The case will be back in court for mention next month.

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