Murder ‘apology’ returned

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The family of John Pat Cunningham, who was shot dead at a British Army checkpoint nearly 50 years ago, have returned a letter of apology to the British Ministry of Defence.

The decision to hand back the apology followed a meeting between Mr Cunningham’s relatives and British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris about a memorial at a County Down army barracks to the former soldier who was later charged with the killing.

Mr Cunningham was shot three times as he ran from soldiers near Benburb, County Tyrone, in 1974. The 27-year-old victim had learning difficulties and would have instinctively run from authority figures.

Last year, Dennis Hutchings, a former British soldier, was put on trial in relation to the killing, but he died before the trial concluded.

In 2013, the British issued the family of Mr Cunningham with a written apology, at that time describing the shooting as ‘tragic’ and saying he had been ‘blameless’.

But this week the letter was returned to Mr Heaton-Harris after he was challenged on why the memorial to Dennis Hutchings had been erected at Palace Barracks in Holywood.

Speaking afterwards, one family member said: “What is an apology worth when they gave Hutchings a full military funeral and allowed a memorial on Ministry of Defence land?”

The family argued that the military funeral and memorial were permitted because he had been on trial for shooting a man in the back – and not despite it.

It also queried if similar memorials would take place upon the death of ‘Soldier F’, who is currently facing prosecution for his role in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, in which 14 died.

“John Pat is clearly just another dead Irish Catholic to [British Defence Minister] Ben Wallace”, they said.

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