Boris Johnson wants to end ‘cycle of Troubles prosecutions with no new evidence’

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Boris Johnson has said he wants to bring to an end the cycle where people are brought to court “with no new evidence” for offences relating to Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Prime Minister was speaking days after the death of veteran Dennis Hutchings while he was in Belfast to face a charge of attempted murder over a fatal shooting incident almost 50 years ago.

He pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974.

The 80-year-old former soldier, who had underlying health conditions, died on Monday after contracting Covid-19.

His solicitor Philip Barden said he hopes the Government will now enact a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions in Northern Ireland, and said this should be known as Dennis’ Law.

Dennis Hutchings court case
Dennis Hutchings arrives at Laganside Courts, Belfast (Mark Marlow/PA)

Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has defended its decision to prosecute Mr Hutchings, saying it was taken after an impartial and independent application of the test for prosecution.

In July, the Government announced plans for a statute of limitations that would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998.

The proposals, which would stop prosecutions of both veterans and former terrorists for Troubles offences, has been widely opposed by victims groups and political parties.

Speaking during a visit to a school in Co Antrim during a one day visit to Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson described “the case of Dennis Hutchings” as “really tragic”.

“I felt very, very sad for him and for all his family because this is the issue that we have been trying to address,” he said.

Northern Ireland centenary
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) attends a service to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Now, this particular case started before this Government came in, so no matter what we did we wouldn’t have been able to stop that one.

“But what we want to do is to try to tell the story of what has happened in the Troubles and to try to bring as much reconciliation and understanding as possible.

“But to bring an end to the endless cycle by which people are being brought to court with no new evidence for things that have been tried and heard many, many years ago.

“That is the thing that I think people want to end and we want to find a solution that brings people together, allows people to grieve, but also allows people to move on.”

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