Dennis Hutchings, the Troubles Army veteran on trial in Belfast over a 1974 shooting, has died after being taken to hospital with Covid.
The 80-year-old former soldier, who was already seriously ill, tested positive on Sunday for the virus, forcing a judge to suspend the criminal proceedings brought against him by Northern Irish prosecutors.
It is understood Mr Hutchings’s condition deteriorated rapidly yesterday and he was transferred from a hotel room where he was self-isolating to a hospital on an emergency basis.
Philip Barden, his solicitor, said the rigour of forcing Mr Hutchings to stand trial had “killed him”.
Mr Hutchings, a great grandfather, had serious underlying health conditions including kidney failure and required dialysis. He was also suffering from heart failure.
His death will cause outrage among the veterans community and deep embarrassment for Boris Johnson, who had promised to end the so-called “witch hunt” of veterans who had served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
The Northern Ireland Veterans Movement said: “It is with deep regret and with the permission of his son John Hutchings that we sadly report that our brave friend Regimental Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings passed away in the Mater hospital this evening.”
Friends of the former staff sergeant in the Life Guards Regiment said travelling to Northern Ireland to face a trial over a shooting nearly 50 years ago had badly affected his health.
The court case had only been sitting three days a week to allow Mr Hutchings to travel to hospital for dialysis.
It comes after Mr Justice O’Hara was forced to adjourn proceedings on Friday at Laganside court in Belfast because of Mr Hutchings’s downturn in his health.
Doctors advised against travel to Belfast
Mr Hutchings’s doctors in England were said to have advised against him travelling to Belfast. Earlier on Monday, a friend of Mr Hutchings drew a direct parallel between his ailing health and the court case.
The friend told The Daily Telegraph: “He has lived successfully in Cornwall without catching Covid since the beginning of the pandemic. He’s had dialysis and not caught Covid – he comes to Northern Ireland and he’s caught Covid.”
Mr Hutchings had pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham, who was shot in the back near Benburb, Co Tyrone, in 1974, as he ran away from an Army patrol.
The 27-year-old had learning difficulties and suffered from a “fear of Army personnel and men in uniforms”, the court has heard, meaning he was likely to have run at the sight of soldiers.
Prosecutors previously told the trial that they had no direct evidence to prove whether the fatal shot was fired by Mr Hutchings or another soldier. Mr Hutchings also denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.