PPS statement on the death of Dennis Hutchings

19 October 2021

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Agnew said: “The Public Prosecution Service commenced proceedings against Dennis Hutchings in 2015 in connection with the 1974 death of John Pat Cunningham after a careful consideration of a wide range of issues, including the strength of evidence against him and the relevant public interest considerations. The case had been reviewed following a referral to the PPS by the Attorney General, which led to a subsequent PSNI investigation following which Mr Hutchings was charged by police.

“The PPS decision to prosecute Mr Hutchings for attempted murder was taken after an impartial and independent application of the Test for Prosecution. The Test for Prosecution requires a consideration of whether the available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of conviction and, if it does, whether prosecution is in the public interest. 

“Whilst a review of a previous no prosecution decision does not require the existence of new evidence, the police investigation in this case resulted in a file being submitted to the PPS which included certain evidence not previously available. In the course of the proceedings there were rulings by High Court Judges that the evidence was sufficient to put Mr Hutchings on trial and also that the proceedings were not an abuse of process. 

“We recognise the concerns in some quarters in relation to the decision to bring this prosecution. 

“We would like to offer our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Hutchings and acknowledge their painful loss.

“However, where a charge is as serious as attempted murder, it will generally be in the public interest to prosecute. The High Court has recently observed, in a separate case relating to a shooting in 1972, that risks arising from ill-health are commonplace in the criminal justice system and such risks are accommodated within the existing legal framework of criminal trials and the adoption of appropriate measures to mitigate risk.  

“In this case the PPS was fully supportive of all measures put in place by the trial judge which included reduced sittings to allow for Mr Hutchings’ treatment and an offer for him to appear remotely instead of appearing in the dock. There were also significant adjournments of court hearings at different stages of the process to accommodate Mr Hutchings and allow him to travel. 

“We can assure the public that all decision-making in this challenging and complex case was taken impartially and independently and fully in accordance with the PPS Code for Prosecutors.

“Our thoughts are also with the family of John Pat Cunningham who have waited for many decades in the hope of seeing due process take its course. We acknowledge that they, like so many other families who have lost loved ones throughout the Troubles, continue to endure pain and deep disappointment over the absence of a criminal justice outcome in their case.”