Lawyers for an Army veteran being prosecuted for the death of a Northern Ireland man 46 years ago say he has been treated worse than mass murderer Harold Shipman.
Dennis Hutchings goes on trial in October accused of the attempted murder of John Patrick Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning difficulties, who was shot in the back near the border with the Republic of Ireland in June 1974.
But solicitors for the former staff sergeant in the Life Guards Regiment say there is no evidence he fired the fatal shots.
Mr Hutchings spent his 80th birthday alongside dozens of veterans protesting outside Parliament on Saturday against what they regard as the whitchunt against former soldiers.
They were joined by former Defence Minister Johnny Mercer, who sacked last month after accusing the Government of letting them down.
Mr Hutchings’s legal team has written to the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland (PPSNI) requesting “an urgent and transparent review of the decision to prosecute” Mr Hutchings.
It comes after the trial of two soldiers for the murder of Official IRA commander Joe McCann collapsed on Tuesday.
The trial had been due to last four weeks but foundered in days after the judge ruled that statements the soldiers had been compelled to make hours after the shooting of McCann on April 15, 1972 were inadmissible.
Although the death of Mr Cunningham in a field near Benburb’s Carrickaness Road was investigated at the time and it was decided not to bring proceedings against Mr Hutchings. However, the case was re-investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in April 2015. That led to Mr Hutchings being charged with attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm.
Mr Hutchings was arrested by police in an early morning raid at his home in Cornwall, despite having offered to attend an interview at his local police station.
He was taken the same day to Northern Ireland and held in a police station for four nights, where he was questioned on 15 separate occasions, which his lawyers pointed out to the PPSNI was five more than the mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman.
Mr Hutchings’s solicitors described the circumstance of his arrest and detention “unlawful and oppressive” and point out that proceedings were brought against the PSNI in the High Court in London over the matter. The High Court ruled that where a soldier is prepared to attend a voluntary interview at a local police station there are no lawful grounds to arrest him.
The prosecution case is that Mr Hutchings fired at Mr Cunningham as he was running away from soldiers seeking to question him.
It is claimed by the prosecution that two soldiers fired a total of five rounds, although there is no longer any forensic evidence and it cannot be said which soldier was responsible for Mr Cunningham’s death.
Mr Hutchings has always maintained he fired into the air to warn Mr Cunningham.
In this letter to the PPSNI Mr Hutchings’s solicitor, Philip Barden, of Devonshires, states: “In 1974, three people were identified as being in the field when Mr Cunningham was shot. The only person still alive is Dennis Hutchings. He is the accused and the sole witness to events that day.
“Dennis Hutchings's case is that he fired aimed air shots. This was a practice used in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. There are no witness who contradict Dennis Hutchings's account.”
The letter adds: “The sole witness who made a statement in 1975, Soldier C, said that he saw Mr Cunningham reach into his jacket and he was then shot. He could not say who shot him. The legal question is what evidence is there that Mr Cunningham was shot at by Dennis Hutchings. The answer is none.”
Mr Hutchings says he has been “betrayed” by the British authorities over the decision to prosecute him for the death of Mr Cunningham, despite an earlier assurance no such prosecution would take place.
In November 1974 he received a letter from the British Army’s Legal Services saying that the then Director of Public Prosecutions “has directed that there is to be no prosecution of any military personnel arising out of this incident”.
Mr Hutchings's trial is due to go ahead at Belfast Crown Court in front of a judge sitting without a jury under Diplock rules designed to prevent the intimidation of juries. He is in need of kidney dialysis on a regular basis and will require treatment throughout the duration of the trial.