Pain of memorial to John Pat’s killer

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The family of a vulnerable adult murdered by the British Army in cold blood have hit out after a memorial was unveiled to his killer at a British Army base.

John Patrick Cunningham, who had learning difficulties, was shot dead as he ran away from a British Army patrol across a field in Benburb, County Tyrone. The 27-year-old would have instinctively run from authority figures.

After avoiding justice for several decades, former soldier Dennis Hutchings finally stood trial last October for attempting to murder and cause grievous bodily harm to John Pat, one of only a handful of British soldiers to ever be put in the dock for their crimes in Ireland.

But he died after testing positive for Covid-19 before proceedings ended. At the time, a judge ruled he could not be considered acquitted or convicted and closed the case.

Over the weekend, a memorial to the killer was unveiled at a British Army barracks at Holywood, County Down. John Pat’s family were not even informed in advance.

Their statement read: “The Cunningham family accept the right of all citizens to honour and commemorate their dead, but in the specific circumstances of this week’s events, would like to ask the Ministry of Defence the basis for allowing a monument to be erected on MoD property.”

The family listed several concerns, including that Mr Hutchings did not die on active service but from natural causes, that he had been charged with attempted murder but died before his trial ended, and that he had failed to provide any explanation for his actions on that day. This included for himself or of another individual known during the trial as Soldier B.

The family described the laying of the memorial stone as hurtful, with the Pat Finucane Centre adding that the family could have held a service and erected a memorial near the late veteran’s home in the south of England.

They added: “He had never offered any explanation of his actions to police on the day that John Pat was shot dead. He refused to cooperate with the RUC in the immediate aftermath.”

Mr Cunningham’s relatives are also asking the British Army “what efforts, if any, were made to consult them over erecting a monument to the man accused of murdering John-Pat, a vulnerable adult who posed no threat”.

Questions were also asked about plans to erect any further monuments to other soldiers who pass away if they die while there are “unresolved legal actions against them”.

They mentioned in particular Soldier F, who is accused of murder during Bloody Sunday.

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