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Dennis Hutchings was persecuted to the very end – we’ll fight to clear name, vow family

Amnesty for Northern Ireland veterans is 'wrong' says Colonel

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Dennis, 80, died in a Belfast hospital last week in the middle of a witchhunt trial over a shooting nearly 50 years ago. Now a furious John Hutchings has declared: “I am going to clear his name. My dad was one day – maximum two days – away from clearing his name in court when he died. “I feel the authorities just let him down. It took six and a half years to get this to court.

“I really don’t think there’s any other country in the world that would have taken him and other veterans to court when there was a lack of evidence.

“Boris Johnson should be ashamed. He had a chance to help veterans and serving soldiers and he didn’t.”

Dennis died alone last week after catching Covid during his trial at Belfast Crown Court.

His death came before statements effectively clearing him of the shooting could be read to the jury.

The Daily Express last week revealed two soldiers in Dennis’s regiment gave evidence to his solicitor saying another serviceman – their friend – had confessed to shooting John Pat Cunningham.

The victim, 27, was hit as he ran away from an Army patrol hunting IRA terrorists in Co Tyrone in 1974.

He had the mental age of a child and was afraid of soldiers.

Just 36 hours earlier Dennis was mentioned in despatches for his role in capturing IRA members.

He was twice investigated over the shooting and told no further action was necessary.

But in 2015, 18 policemen turned up at his home in Cornwall to arrest him. He was taken to Belfast and repeatedly interrogated, signalling the start of a six-year ordeal.

He denied attempted murder and grievous bodily harm with intent in court. And he insisted on going ahead with the trial despite suffering from end-stage renal failure, heart disease, hypertension and atrial fibrillation. The court only sat three days a week so he could have kidney dialysis.

Thousands are now expected to attend the veteran’s funeral at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth on the most evocative day of the military calendar, November 11.

Kim Devonshire, his partner of 26 years, hit out at the cruel treatment Dennis endured during the last years of his life. She said: “I find it deeply saddening that men who have gone out and fought for their country like Dennis are treated so shoddily.

“It is cruel. It is heartless that they should persecute an old man in very, very poor health without any consideration for him, without any consideration for his health.

“But he was very determined that he was going to clear his name.

“He probably could have had the trial called off because of his health.

“But he would not have allowed that because he was so determined to stand up and show that he was an innocent man.”

Kim, 65, said she has been overwhelmed by support since Dennis died.

The former airport worker, of Cawsand, Cornwall, revealed: “I have had so many cards from around the world and every single one said what a strong, upright character he was and how he inspired people.

“I’ve had grown men on the phone in tears talking of their memories of him.

“I knew he was strong and well liked but I had no idea of the almost total devotion he inspired.”

She last saw Dennis the day before he died when she had to return home from Belfast for a few days.

They spoke the next morning when he was suffering Covid in his hotel room.

Kim said: “I then left him various messages but he did not answer, which was unusual because Dennis phoned me all the time.

“But I don’t think he wanted to talk to me because he was quite breathless and he would not have wanted to worry me.

“Right to the end, he was always so considerate – determined that I should never see him as anything other than my tower of strength.”

Dennis died later that evening.

John, 58, from Wokingham, Berks, also feels let down because his father’s old regiment, the Life Guards, has refused to allow serving soldiers to carry his casket.

He said: “My father would have loved his coffin to have been carried by soldiers from the Life Guards. Dad was a Regimental Corporal Major and he loved the Life Guards. We even said we would pay for them to come. But we were told he wasn’t a serving soldier.

“There are plenty of people, such as Captain Tom, who were not serving when they died who had serving personnel carrying their coffin.

“He was still on active service. He was in court defending himself for his action as a soldier in 1974.”

Instead, Dennis’s casket will be carried by Life Guards veterans.

The family has asked that the send-off not be politicised. Flags are welcome but banners and political speeches are not. John said: “We want to keep it as a family-oriented funeral. He is still my dad. I am trying to bury my dad.”

And Kim said: “I want his funeral to be a true celebration of Dennis the man and the respect he earned.

That is why there will be so many people there and I have chosen the hymn Fight The Good Fight, because of the fight he put up for so long.”

An MoD spokesman said: “Our sincere condolences go to the family, friends and loved ones of Dennis

The MoD supported Mr Hutchings throughout his trial with legal representation and pastoral care, which will continue to be offered to his family.

“We have not been approached to provide pall-bearers for the funeral.”

The Government has proposed a time limit on prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans and terrorists but has yet to table legislation. SAS veteran Rusty Firmin said: “Dennis had been through the mill, beyond what anyone in the British Army should have to endure.

“He had no support from the people at the top.

“Boris Johnson lied about fixing the witch-hunt against Northern Ireland veterans. Nothing has been sorted out. Veterans still live in fear of being dragged through the courts for doing their duty.

“But the MoD also deserves to be heavily criticised. What is going on is disgraceful. Dennis Hutchings was a true Life Guard. He rose through the ranks to become the equivalent of a Regimental Sergeant Major.

“Yet he was hounded to death – and then we had to hear the shallow words of the Prime Minister and other people at the top.

“Why didn’t they do something to help him before? Why didn’t they support him when he was alive?”

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