Serving soldiers will not carry Dennis Hutchings’ coffin, says MoD

·4-min read
Dennis Hutchings - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Dennis Hutchings - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The Ministry of Defence has said that serving soldiers will not carry the coffin of Dennis Hutchings, the veteran who died part way through his controversial trial over a fatal shooting during the Troubles.

The decision has deeply upset the family of Hutchings, whose funeral will now take place according to his final wishes on Armistice Day. Thousands of former soldiers are expected to line the route in tribute.

Hutchings, a former corporal major in the Life Guards regiment, died during his trial over the death of a man in Northern Ireland in 1974 at the height of the conflict. 

Hutchings, who was 80, had contracted Covid-19 after flying from his home in Cornwall to Belfast for the court case. He was seriously ill with kidney failure that required dialysis three times a week as well as a serious heart condition.

Kim Devonshire, his partner for the past 26 years, and his children had requested that six serving members of the Life Guards regiment, part of the Household Cavalry, be made available to carry the coffin. 

But the family have now been told that no serving soldiers will be allowed to take part.

'They won't do anything for him'

John Hutchings, 58, his son, said: “We are really upset about this. My dad was a regimental corporal major, who was decorated and gave fantastic service, and they won’t do anything for him.”

The official reason being given, according to the family, is that Hutchings was not a serving soldier at the time of his death. But the family has pointed out that other veterans receive funerals every year with full military honours, such as Captain Sir Tom Moore, the 100-year-old who also died of Covid, after he raised record sums for the NHS. 

Mr Hutchings said he suspected that the ongoing court case was the real reason behind the decision, even though his father was never found guilty. Mr Hutchings is confident his father would have been acquitted. 

“I think this is because he was on trial and in court and it would embarrass the military to send soldiers to represent him. I don’t think there is any other reason,” said Mr Hutchings, adding: “It feels like yet another betrayal by the Ministry of Defence. It is another kick.”

Dennis Hutchings - Liam McBurney/PA
Dennis Hutchings - Liam McBurney/PA

Instead former members of the Life Guards, all in their 70s and 80s, will instead carry the coffin into the church and another six veterans will carry it out.

Hutchings’ trial and subsequent death caused deep anger among the veteran community, while Boris Johnson has been seriously embarrassed by his Government’s failure to prevent former soldiers from being investigated over fatalities almost half a century ago.

But the decision to block serving soldiers from participating will fuel the sense of injustice. 

Hutchings could have avoided the trial after his doctor said he would declare him too unwell to go to court, but he had wanted to prove his innocence before he died.

Hutchings’ funeral will now be held on November 11 at 1pm at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth, the largest in the city.

'If I die earlier in the year, put me in a freezer until Armistice Day'

Ms Devonshire said on Tuesday: “We went to numerous funerals for his friends and he said ‘there will be no one left to come to mine. If I die earlier in the year, put me in a freezer until Armistice Day because at least then the church will be full’.”

Hutchings was cleared after an initial inquiry into the shooting of John Patrick Cunningham, a 27-year-old man with serious learning difficulties, who was shot in the back by the Army as he ran from a patrol in a field in County Armagh.

Hutchings denied firing the fatal bullets and insisted he shot into the air to try to get Cunningham to stop. A second soldier, who has since died, allegedly told Hutchings that he had fired the fatal shots. 

An MoD spokesperson said: “Our sincere condolences go to the family, friends and loved ones of Dennis Hutchings.”

The MoD said the regiment did not provide pallbearers for retired personnel but that “Dennis Hutchings is entitled to a Regimental trumpeter”.

The MoD said a formal request for a trumpeter had now been made and “is currently being processed”.

Watch the latest videos from Yahoo News UK

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting