Stop the discrimination against British army veterans

by Dennis Hutchings

Stop the discrimination against British army veterans

by Dennis Hutchings
Dennis Hutchings
Case Owner
My name is Dennis Hutchings. I served in the British Army for 26 years. Now I'm being prosecuted for a crime I did not commit because of discrimination against British veterans in Northern Ireland.
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Dennis Hutchings
Case Owner
My name is Dennis Hutchings. I served in the British Army for 26 years. Now I'm being prosecuted for a crime I did not commit because of discrimination against British veterans in Northern Ireland.
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Latest: June 4, 2020

Dennis Hutchings Refused Remedy for Discriminatory Treatment

Today the High Court refused to give Dennis Hutchings any remedy or relief from the discriminatory prosecutions he and other veterans who served in Northern Ireland are facing.

The Court refused to fi…

Read more

Who am I?

My name is Dennis Hutchings.  I served in the British Army for 26 years.  

I was posted to Northern Ireland during the Troubles in the early 1970’s and I did several tours there. I did my duty as did many others. Now we are the subject of repeat investigations and prosecutions. 

My story 

On 15 June 1974 John Patrick Cunningham was shot and killed in NI. This was a tragic incident. I did not shoot Mr Cunningham. 

I was arrested at the time and after an investigation told in writing that the Director of Public Prosecutions had directed that I would not be prosecuted. In 2011 the Historic Enquires Unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) cold-case reviewed this matter and again I was told no action would be taken against me. 

Then, out of the blue, on 21 April 2015 I was arrested at my home in England by police officers from Northern Ireland and taken the same day to Belfast where I was held for four days and interviewed on numerous occasions; more times, I’m told than Harold Shipman, believed to be history’s most prolific serial killer. I was then charged with Attempted Murder. I have been fighting this case ever since.

When I was arrested the then Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland was Bara McGrory, who previously had represented Martin McGuinness at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and is stated on the Internet to have acted for Gerry Adams. Mr McGrory signed a certificate denying me a jury trial and I am to stand trial beginning on 9 March 2020. 

I am not guilty of this or any crime. I dutifully served my country, am innocent, 78-years-old, suffer from ill health and, along with other veterans am the subject of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Why we need your help

There is evidence that myself and another five veterans facing prosecution are the subject of discriminatory treatment by the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.  

While terrorists have been granted effective amnesties from prosecution, British Army veterans have been targeted in disproportionate numbers to be brought before the courts. 

I am taking the following action to ensure what is happening to me does not happen to any of the other thousands of British Army veterans who served their country to protect the public from terrorism and civil unrest during the Troubles.

I have been advised by my legal team that the Government’s ongoing failure to protect veterans from unjust prosecutions in Northern Ireland is a possible breach of the Human Rights Act and should be challenged in the courts.

Please donate what you can to my campaign - every little helps - and share this page with friends and family on social media, and by email or WhatsApp.

Discrimination against veterans

During the Troubles, around 3,500 people were killed and very many more injured. Statistics show that 90% of the deaths were caused by terrorists (60% by Republican paramilitaries and 30% by Loyalists paramilitaries).  The number of state killings (by police and soldiers) stands at less than 10%.  It is incontrovertible that all paramilitary killings were criminal, while the state killings – with a handful of exceptions – were lawful.

I believe that anyone who commits an unlawful killing should face justice.  However, despite being responsible for around 2200 deaths, during the Troubles, all of which were unlawful, only a handful of IRA terrorists have been prosecuted since the Northern Ireland peace agreement in 1998.  

Disproportionately, six British soldiers, including me, are now facing prosecution.  In fact, research indicates that veterans are 54x more likely to be prosecuted in Northern Ireland than IRA terrorists.  These number don’t add up and it is clear that veterans are being subject to discriminatory treatment.

This imbalance is due in the large part to a secret administrative programme which was run by the British Government between 2000 and 2014.  Because of it, at least 187 Republicans who feared prison for suspected terrorist offences received effective amnesties from prosecution under the now infamous ‘on-the-run’ scheme.  As a veteran, I don’t want an amnesty, not least because I’ve done nothing wrong.  I just want fair treatment.

What can we do

The British Government has promised to enact legislation by 18 April 2020 which will deal with Northern Ireland’s legacy issues, including how to address investigations and prosecutions of Troubles related incidents.  With only months to go, the draft bill, as currently written, still fails to provide any protection to veterans.

My legal team, led by barrister Dr. Austen Morgan, have written a Letter-Before-Action to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland calling on the British Government to make good on its election promises to give “veterans who served in the Troubles … the protection they deserve” and announce exactly what protections, come April, veterans will be given from unjust prosecutions.  We have given the Government 14 days to respond.

Should the British Government fail or refuse to commit to adequate protections then we may apply to the courts to compel the government to review its decision.

While a decision may not come in time to help me, I hope that this action will help all those other veterans who are currently wondering whether the next knock will be on their door.

How you can help

At this stage, it is impossible to know the final costs of any legal action.  We hope that the Government will see sense and that going to court will not be necessary.  I also hope that, should we need to proceed, the Ministry of Defence will also agree to cover my costs as part of its obligations to me as a veteran.  However, if the MOD refuses to support me and I have to go it alone, I will need to cover my own legal costs as well set aside funds to cover the government’s costs should the courts rule against me; this could amount up to £100,000.

In the meantime, I need to  continue raising funds to cover current costs and:

  • My legal team's continued advice and representation;
  • The making of ongoing representations to the Government to seek a resolution;
  • Progressing my action before the high court; 
  • Continuing representations to the MOD to secure funding and support for my legal action.

I am represented by solicitors McCue & Partners LLP and barrister Dr. Austen Morgan who was counsel to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the IRA ‘On-The-Runs’ scandal.  I am represented in the criminal proceedings by Devonshires Solicitors LLP in England and MTB Solicitors in Belfast.

Thank for for your support!

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Update 7

Dennis Hutchings

June 4, 2020

Dennis Hutchings Refused Remedy for Discriminatory Treatment

Today the High Court refused to give Dennis Hutchings any remedy or relief from the discriminatory prosecutions he and other veterans who served in Northern Ireland are facing.

The Court refused to find that the Government’s many assurances to Northern Ireland veterans that they would be protected from such prosecutions amounted to a commitment on which any veteran could rely. It also refused to declare that their exclusion from the Overseas Operations Bill currently passing through Parliament that protects veterans who served abroad, but not those who served in Northern Ireland, was discriminatory.

Dennis and his legal team are considering an appeal.

Dennis has said: “To say that I'm disappointed in our legal system would be choosing my words carefully. I'm an ex soldier who along with many others served  our Queen and country and in many instances gave their lives carrying out the orders of our politicians. We now have a legal system in Northern Ireland, supported by the Northern Ireland Office, hell-bent on prosecuting the members of the security services who served in Northern Ireland outside the the usual standards of British justice. Meanwhile, terrorists work in Government and walk the streets without fear of prosecution. Where is the justice in this country.” 

Update 6

Dennis Hutchings

June 3, 2020

COVID-19 Means Dennis Is Once Again Denied Open Justice

Today, due to COVID-19 restrictions and behind closed doors, the High Court will consider by video-link whether Dennis Hutchings may challenge the discriminatory treatment by the Northern Ireland criminal justice system of British Army veterans who served in Operation Banner during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In the interests of open justice, Dennis has requested that the Court adjourn the hearing until he, the press and leaders from the veterans’ community can attend in person.  Despite the Defendant having no objection, the Court has refused Dennis’ request.

Dennis’ legal team has been directed by the Court that only the judge, his clerk and the parties’ barristers may use the video-link.  Dennis, the solicitors, members of the press and the public may only listen to the proceedings - but only after being ‘invited’ to attend as ‘guests’ by the court.

Dennis is being prosecuted for attempted murder (for which he pleads innocent) in relation to the tragic death of a civilian in 1974 despite being issued with a letter by British Army Legal Services at the time informing him that, following a police investigation, the Director of Public Prosecutions had “directed that there is to be no prosecution of any military personnel arising of [the death of John Patrick Cunningham]”.   No new evidence has come to light since then to support any case against Dennis.   He is 79 years old and has end-stage renal failure.

Controversially, Dennis has been denied a jury trial.  The court has also indicated that, due to COVID-19 and his underlying health issues, his criminal trial should go ahead without him present and attending only by way of video-link.  At present, Dennis’ fate depends on a decision by a lone judge while possibly also sitting in his front-room at home alone waiting for his sentence to be passed.

The court hearing takes place at 2pm BST today.

Dennis has said: "“To say that I'm disappointed in our legal system would be choosing my words carefully.  I'm an ex soldier who along with many others served  our Queen and country and in many instances gave their lives carrying out the orders of our politicians.  We now have a legal system in Northern Ireland, supported by the Northern Ireland Office, hell-bent on prosecuting the members of the security services who served in Northern Ireland outside the the usual standards of British justice.  Meanwhile, terrorists work in Government and walk the streets without fear of prosecution.  Where is the justice in this country.”

Update 5

Dennis Hutchings

March 19, 2020

We’re going to court

It has been confirmed that veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles will not receive the same protections as those who served overseas following the introduction of a new veterans’ protection bill in Parliament today.

While the new legislation will,  if passed, protect veterans who served overseas from vexatious prosecutions, it won’t apply to operations in Northern Ireland.  This, veterans have been told will be addressed in separate legislation.

However, I have little confidence that such legislation extending to Northern Ireland will ever be passed given the tensions and historical stalemate between Westminster and Stormont on this issue.

Consequently, I have little choice but to proceed with his legal challenge against the Government for allowing continuing discrimination against veterans by the Northern Ireland criminal justice system.

Yesterday, government lawyers filed their defence denying, contrary to the facts, that veterans are being discriminated against or that Westminster even has any responsibility for it.

To date, the government has also refused requests for a meeting by my legal team and I to try and avoid legal action.

Politics has let us down as it normally does. We’ve waited years for legislation to be passed to protect Northern Ireland veterans and it still hasn’t happened.  Our only option now is to let the court decide. 

Thank you for your support,

Dennis Hutchings

Update 4

Dennis Hutchings

March 17, 2020

NI Vets Fear They Have Been Misled by Government False Assurances of Protection

Dennis Hutchings believes he has been misled by politicians who have repeatedly assured the public that the issue of vexatious prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans would be resolved within 100 days of the formation of the new Conservative government.

Yesterday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed to MPs that the Veterans Protections Bill, due to be put before parliament tomorrow will not cover veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.  This is despite public assurances by politicians to the contrary.

Mr. Hutchings and his legal team repeatedly expressed concerns to the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Office and the Veterans Parliamentary Support Group (VSG), chaired by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, that Northern Ireland veterans would be excluded but were ignored.

In response to Mr. Hutchings’ legal team, Sir Iain dismissed their concerns and assured them matters were in hand by writing: “The primary mission of the Veterans Support Group is to scrutinise the forthcoming legislation in detail and, if necessary amend it, in order to ensure that Northern Ireland Veterans who served on Operation Banner during the Troubles are suitably protected against politically motivated prosecutions”.

Requests by Mr. Hutchings for information from and meetings with the NIO have been ignored.

Mr. Hutchings intends to proceed with his public law challenge against the NIO for the discriminatory treatment of veterans by the Northern Ireland criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, despite Mr. Hutchings being 78-years-old and dying of renal failure and being advised by the British Government to self-isolate because of COVID-19, a Northern Ireland judge has expressed the view that his trial should continue regardless, despite Mr. Hutchings not being able to attend in person.

Update 3

Dennis Hutchings

March 13, 2020

This is why we have to keep up the pressure...

Yesterday at a meeting at Westminster Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer is reported to have said that “he would introduce a bill next week to protect ex-personnel from vexatious legal claims”.

Previously, Mr. Mercer has announced that such legislation will be introduced by 18 March.

However, it is unclear whether this protection will extend to veterans who served in Northern Ireland or only to those who served overseas.

It is also unclear whether it will apply retrospectively in that it will overturn existing decisions to prosecute.  If not, veterans like me will still be tried by a discriminatory criminal justice system.

Given competing political agendas between Westminster and Northern Ireland, we have every reason to suspect it won’t.

That is why we have to keep up the pressure of our judicial review.

The court has ordered the government to answer our legal challenge by 17 March.  If either its response or Mr. Mercer’s proposed legislation are unsatisfactory then our legal challenge must proceed.  To do so, we need your continued support to raise the funds needed to do so.  

We have been overwhelmed by the level of support so far, which is why we have increased our stretch target to £50,000 in preparation.  Any unused funds will be donated to other legal actions in support of or defence of veterans and their families.

Update 2

Dennis Hutchings

Feb. 26, 2020

Coverage of our campaign in the Telegraph

"Soldiers are 54 times more likely to be prosecuted than terrorists over deaths during the Troubles"

With your support our campaign continues to be covered in the national press. 

Please see this article in the Telegraph today about our legal submission.

Please share the article with your friends, family and on social media and ask people to visit the case page to find out more about this crucial campaign.

Thanks you for your support. 

Update 1

Dennis Hutchings

Feb. 21, 2020

"Time is running out" - progress and press

Thanks to your support we have got a response from the government.

In essence, they have outlined contradictory positions and we intend to hold them to account.

The issue of what protections veterans will be given from vexatious legal action in Northern Ireland cannot, on the one hand, be a matter for Stormont while, at the same time be the subject of promised legislation by Westminster.

Please read and share the following articles covering the case development on social media and remember to include a link to this case page:

The Telegraph
Belfast telegraph
Daily Mail

Link to case page: www.crowdjustice.com/case/justice4veterans/

Please continue to support this legal action and other ex-service members in my position by sharing this page with your friends and family and on social media.

Please see the full press release below.

Thank you for your support.


**PRESS RELEASE**


Yesterday, the Government rejected a request by Dennis Hutchings to announce exactly what protections veterans will be given from vexatious legal action in Northern Ireland in advance of his trial.

Writing to Mr. Hutchings, the Government has said that this is not its responsibility as this is a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland under devolved powers granted to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

At the same time, the Government has written that Westminster is committed to introducing legislation to protect veterans like Mr. Hutchings.

Time is running out for Mr. Hutchings and others.

These two positions are contradictory and incompatible. This cannot, on the one hand, be a matter for Stormont while, at the same time be the subject of promised legislation by Westminster.

The Government has also rejected a request by Mr. Hutchings to meet with him to try and seek a resolution without resorting to legal action.

Meanwhile, a letter from Mr. Hutchings to Sir Ian Duncan Smith MP, who chairs the Parliamentary Veterans Support Group, asking him to facilitate such a meeting has gone unanswered for almost two weeks.

Unable to rely on the Government and politicians, this leaves Mr. Hutchings no choice but to proceed with a judicial review of the Government’s failures.

Mr. Hutchings is currently relying on public support via crowdfunding to support his action. However, he may not be able to proceed without the support of the Ministry of Defence, which is funding is his criminal defence. A formal request is currently under consideration by the MOD and an answer is expected early next week.

Mr. Hutchings is being prosecuted for the attempted murder of John Patrick Cunningham in 1974.  Despite prior investigations concluding that no action should be taken against Mr. Hutchings, he is now scheduled to face trial on 9 March, almost 456years later, without a jury and before  judge alone.


QUOTES: 

“The Government can’t keep hiding behind claims that this is an issue for Northern Ireland when it was the Westminster parliament that sent 300,000 British troops to Northern Ireland to protect British citizens. There were more British members of security forces killed in northern Ireland than the two Iraq wars and Afghanistan put together. Veterans should be protected by British law from these unfair and discriminatory prosecutions. The Government has to accept responsibility. Meanwhile, I’m bitterly disappointed by Ian Duncan Smith and his committee. It seems to me it is just another example of politicians trying build their careers on the backs of veterans.” Dennis Hutchings

“All Dennis is asking for is fair and equal treatment under the law. It is clear that veterans are being subject to discriminatory treatment by the Northern Ireland criminal justice system, for which the Government must accept responsibility and act independently and immediately to afford veterans proper protections before it’s too late for Dennis and others like him.” Matthew Jury, Managing Partner, McCue & Partners LLP

NOTES TO EDITOR:

Led by barrister Dr. Austen Morgan, Mr. Hutchings legal team have raised a public law challenge against the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland calling on the British Government to make good on its election promises to give “veterans who served in the Troubles … the protection they deserve” and announce exactly what protections, come April, veterans will be given from unjust prosecutions.

During the Troubles, around 3,500 people were killed and very many more injured. Statistics show that 90% of the deaths were caused by terrorists (60% by Republican paramilitaries and 30% by Loyalists paramilitaries). The number of state killings (by police and soldiers) stands at less than 10%. It is incontrovertible that all paramilitary killings were criminal, while the state killings – with a handful of exceptions – were lawful.

Despite being responsible for around 2200 deaths, during the Troubles, all of which were unlawful, only a handful of republican paramilitaries have been prosecuted since the Northern Ireland peace agreement in 1998. Meanwhile, six British Army veterans are facing prosecution before the NI courts.

While terrorists have been granted effective amnesties from prosecution, British Army veterans have been targeted in disproportionate numbers to be brought before the courts. Research indicates that veterans are 54x more likely to be prosecuted in Northern Ireland than IRA terrorists. These number don’t add up and it is clear that veterans are being subject to discriminatory treatment in violation of the Human Rights Act.

The British Government has promised to enact legislation by 18 April 2020 which will deal with Northern Ireland’s legacy issues, including how to address investigations and prosecutions of Troubles related incidents. With only months to go, the draft bill, as currently written, still fails to provide any protection to veterans. If enacted at all, it will also come too late for Mr. Hutchings.

It has been reported that the previous Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith MP was “sacked” last week because he had made commitments that meant British Army veterans would not be protected from unfair prosecutions and that this raised “questions over whether the UK Government will follow through” on its commitments.

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