Widow of Dennis Hutchings sues Government for ‘discriminating against ex-soldiers’
Kim Devonshire launches a case and vows to continue her late husband’s fight to stop Troubles veterans from facing prosecution.
The widow of Dennis Hutchings has cast doubt on the Government’s pledge to protect Northern Ireland veterans by launching her own legal case to end the prosecution of troops.
Kim Devonshire vowed on Monday to “continue Dennis’s fight” by taking a legal case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that military veterans are being unfairly treated by the Government.
Hutchings died at the age of 80 last October after contracting Covid-19 part way through his trial in Belfast for attempted murder over a fatal shooting in Northern Ireland in 1974.
Last week, the Government said that it was pressing ahead with a new legacy Bill intended to protect troops, as well as terrorists, from prosecution in Northern Ireland over killings during the Troubles.
The legislation, which has been promised by Boris Johnson, has been held up by wrangling within the Government and entrenched opposition across the political divide in the province.
Ms Devonshire said on Monday: “The Government has made the same promises time and time again. We, Dennis’ family, feel incredibly disheartened by the treatment Dennis and other veterans have suffered and are sceptical that anything meaningful will come from the Government’s most recent announcement.
We’d be foolish to keep relying on the Government’s broken promises. We’ve no choice but to take action ourselves.
The legal case in the European Court in Strasbourg had been lodged by Hutchings while he was alive. Ms Devonshire has now decided to carry on the case on behalf of her partner and other veterans who could find themselves under criminal investigation.
Hutchings, who served in the British Army for 26 years and was posted to Northern Ireland in the early Seventies, had been suffering from heart and kidney failure and was on dialysis three times a week when put on trial. The great-grandfather from Cawsand, Cornwall, died last autumn before his trial was over, meaning that he was never acquitted.
The former member of the Life Guards regiment had denied shooting John Patrick Cunningham, 27, who had learning difficulties. He was shot dead as he ran away from an Army patrol across a field in County Tyrone.
Ms Devonshire added: “We would ask that Dennis’ name be cleared, as was his dying wish. But more importantly, that no other veteran should have to endure the pain, trauma and humiliation in their later years of such determined and unrelenting prosecutions.
He fought for his country, but never dreamed he’d have to fight for his good name.
Lawyers for the Hutchings family argue that military veterans are now 54 times more likely to be prosecuted than IRA terror suspects and that the Government has failed to end “this discriminatory treatment”.
They claim that because the Ministry of Defence maintained detailed files on all shooting incidents, then soldiers are much more likely to be investigated for historic incidents than paramilitaries against whom there is little remaining evidence.
Matthew Jury, the family’s lawyer, said: “Dennis’ family are fighting for the human rights of British veterans in Strasbourg. Anyone who commits an unlawful killing should face justice.
“However, while terrorists have been granted effective amnesties from prosecution, British Army veterans have been targeted for prosecution in disproportionate numbers.”
“Dennis’ fight will continue, because British veterans who served our country, surely deserve no less than a promise of fair treatment.”