The solicitor for Army veteran Dennis Hutchings has called on the Government to halt the historical prosecution of veterans following his client’s death while on trial for attempted murder.

Hutchings died in Belfast on Monday after contracting Covid-19 while he was on trial over a 1974 Troubles shooting.

His solicitor Philip Barden said he hopes the Government will now enact a statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions in Northern Ireland, and said this should be known as “Dennis’ Law”.

Mr Barden, from law firm Devonshires, added: “I had the honour to look after Dennis Hutchings for 10 years. I was with him on Monday shortly before he passed away. What follows is what he wanted me to say on his behalf.

“I hope that the Government will now enact a statute of limitation that will end the shameful pursuit of Army veterans in Northern Ireland. This should be known as Dennis’ Law as it is the cause that he fought and died for.”

Hutchings had been charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974.

The former member of the Life Guards regiment, from Cawsand in Cornwall, had denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

Mr Barden said that had Hutchings given evidence at his trial, he would have said that he did not shoot Mr Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974, but that he had fired “air shots”.

The solicitor said: “Dennis fired one warning shot. Mr Cunningham stopped and turned momentarily. This enabled another soldier to move closer to Mr Cunningham in an attempt to arrest him.

“That soldier thought Mr Cunningham was about to produce a weapon and he cocked his rifle, but did not fire.

“Mr Cunningham turned and ran off. Dennis fired two warning shots, as the first had briefly stopped him, in the hope that two more would cause him to halt. At the same time another soldier fired the fatal shots.”

Mr Barden added: “It was Dennis who applied field dressings to Mr Cunningham and tried to save his life. Those are not the actions of a man who had moments before attempted to murder Mr Cunningham by firing at him as the prosecution allege.

Dennis Hutchings court case
Supporters of Dennis Hutchings congregate together outside Laganside Court in Belfast this week (Liam McBurney/PA)

“In Mr Cunningham’s final moments it was Dennis who tried to save his life.”

The lawyer continued: “I hope that no-one else goes through Dennis’ experience of a process that preoccupied the last 10 years of his life.

“Unless this Government now acts then many others will follow Dennis as there are numerous coroner’s inquests and police investigations still under way.

“It is inevitable that others will follow in Dennis’ footsteps unless this is stopped.

“I believe that if our Prime Minister had been born in Northern Ireland and had seen the Troubles and the peace process that was brought about primarily by the Army, then he would have protected these vulnerable veterans from this unseemly process by now.

“This Government can only be judged by its actions. It has already been too slow to act to save Dennis, but there is still time to save others.”

In July, the Government announced plans for a statute of limitations that would end all prosecutions for Troubles incidents up to April 1998.