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Former British soldier charged over 1974 Northern Ireland killing

A police officer checks vehicles on the Ormeau Avenue, in South Belfast, Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

BELFAST: A 73-year-old former British soldier was charged Saturday in relation to the death of a Catholic man with learning difficulties in Northern Ireland 40 years ago.

John Pat Cunningham, a 27-year-old who had a mental age of a between 6 and 10, was shot three times as he ran away from an army patrol in a field in June 1974. Relatives said he ran because he had a fear of men in uniform.

Former soldier Dennis Hutchins, who lives in the southern English town of Torpoint, was charged Saturday with attempted murder, the first time anyone has been charged in relation to the incident. He has not yet formally responded to the charge.

An account of the shooting by the Pat Finucane Center, which is helping to represent Cunningham's family, said that two soldiers opened fire. A police spokesman declined to give details of Hutchins' alleged role in the incident or whether any other suspects would be pursued.

Hutchins, who was arrested in England last Tuesday and taken to Northern Ireland for questioning, was released on bail until June 3.

The charges follow a decision last month by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's recently established Legacy Investigation Branch to take a fresh look at the evidence surrounding Cunningham's killing.

Campaigners have criticized the authorities in Northern Ireland for not doing more to investigate crimes by the authorities during three decades of tit-for tat killings between Irish nationalists who wanted the province to join Ireland and unionists who wanted it to remain British.

Over 3,600 people died before a 1998 political deal largely ended the violence.

 

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