Johnny Mercer blasts MoD over betrayed soldier’s dying wish: Friend of Troubles veteran Dennis Hutchings accuses Army chiefs of ‘blaming ministers’ for refusing to let troops carry coffin at Armistice Day funeral
- Military brass have refused to budge over letting Life Guards handle his coffin
- Johnny Mercer slammed MoD for ‘blaming commanding officers and ministers’
- Mr Mercer has blasted officials for dragging their heels over making a decision
- It comes as Mr Hutchings’ family called for no political messaging at his funeral
Johnny Mercer has blasted the Ministry of Defence for refusing to let Dennis Hutchings have soldiers in uniform carry his coffin at his Armistice Day funeral.
The MP slammed military bosses for ‘dodging’ and ‘blaming commanding officers and ministers’ for blocking the request of the late Troubles veteran and his family.
Mr Mercer, who supported Mr Hutchings during his trial in Belfast over a 1974 shooting, said he still cannot get top brass to commit to an answer.
It comes as the late soldier’s relatives yesterday appealed for there to be no political messaging as they lay him to rest next month.
They said they welcomed as many people who wanted to go but called for no banners, slogans or speeches.
Mr Hutchings, from Cawsand in Cornwall, died aged 80 in Northern Ireland’s capital after contracting Covid-19 earlier this month.
His death prompted questions by unionist politicians over the decision to prosecute him almost 50 years later.
Dennis Hutchings’ friend the MP Johnny Mercer (pictured together in Belfast earlier this month) slammed the Ministry of Defence for ‘blaming commanding officers and ministers’
The family of Northern Ireland vet Dennis Hutchings have urged people to avoid politicising his funeral next month. Pictured right: Hutchings in dress uniform at Knightsbridge Barracks, 1978
Supporters of Mr Hutchings congregated together outside Laganside Court in Belfast during his trial earlier this month
Dennis Hutchings: Army veteran pursued over historic Northern Ireland allegations… for which there was no proof
The veteran (pictured when younger) was facing trial over the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in 1974
Dennis Hutchings was facing trial over the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham.
He was shot running from a British Army patrol in Benburb, Co Tyrone, back in June 1974.
Mr Hutchings, who required kidney dialysis twice a week and has heart problems, was in the British Army for 26 years.
He served five tours of Northern Ireland when the Troubles were at their worst.
The former corporal major was cleared twice over the events which took place in the mid-1970s.
Despite no fresh evidence, no witnesses and no new forensic leads, the retired soldier was accused again of attempted murder.
Mr Mercer has been left outraged by MoD officials and politicians for not confirming Mr Hutchings’ coffin can be carried by soldiers from the Life Guards at his funeral on November 11.
He told MailOnline: ‘I still can’t get an answer as to whether Dennis’ family will get his wish.
‘Ministers claim its for Commanding Officers to decide; Commanding Officers then blame Ministers.
‘It’s not hard for someone to make a decision, but encapsulates how difficult this has been to make sure Dennis is looked after.
‘Frankly I’m a little tired of reading all the vexed letters and emails from retired Military Officers and Ministers who decry the appalling treatment of this man, but did nothing to help him when they had the opportunity, or are too frightened to raise their head in public now.
‘I’ve never understood the shame we seem to have towards this generation of Veterans. I know the wider country is fiercely proud of them. As am I.’
Mr Hutchings travelled to Belfast this month to stand trial for attempted murder, despite suffering from kidney failure.
He said he was determined to clear his name over his alleged role in the shooting of John Pat Cunningham in County Tyrone almost 50 years ago.
But just days into the trial, Mr Hutchings fell ill. He contracted Covid and died alone in hospital on October 18, despite pleas to return to his native Cornwall.
It is up to each regiment to decide whether it grants military funerals for retired soldiers.
But Mr Hutchings’ family were reportedly told it could not be accommodated because he was no longer serving.
His son John said at the weekend: ‘I have only asked the Life Guards one thing in the last six-and-a-half years [since Mr Hutchings’ arrest] and that is to have pallbearers in uniform.
‘I was told you have to be a serving soldier but he was in court for his service as a soldier. It’s bang out of order.
‘He served 26 years in the Army, put his life on the line. I’m really, really disappointed with the decision. Dad loved the Life Guards.’
Mr Hutchings’ partner, Kim Devonshire, added: ‘He was on trial in Northern Ireland fighting on behalf of all the other soldiers, so he was still serving.
‘He was representing more than 200 soldiers who could still be prosecuted over their service in Northern Ireland.’
Major Derek Stratford, who served alongside Mr Hutchings in the Life Guards, said he contacted the Life Guards Association on Friday to request pallbearers.
He said he was told ‘the commanding officer had said no, it can’t be arranged in this day and time’.
The 88-year-old added: ‘I think it ought to be and I’m disgusted he can’t have it.’
Mr Hutchings is pictured being greeted by a supporter as he arrived at Belfast Crown Court on October 4
Mr Hutchings is photographed on the far right in this picture from his time in in Germany in 1960
Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, stoked a military row at the weekend as he appeared to back Mr Hutchings’ family.
Mr Wallace said: ‘If he wants pallbearers at his funeral and the commanding officer is willing to release them, he served his country, he’s not been convicted of anything.
‘I did actually direct the [MoD] to help bring his body back from Northern Ireland, or facilitate it.’
Mr Hutchings family requested all those who want to come to the veteran’s funeral not to turn it into a political rally.
They said in a statement: ‘The family are aware of the great deal of interest from those who supported Dennis in attending his funeral.
‘The family are grateful for all the incredible support over many years and are looking forward to welcoming as many people as can make it to Plymouth on November 11. All are welcome.
‘Flags are permitted, banners are not. The family have specifically requested no political slogans, speeches or banners on the day.’
The MoD said: ‘The MoD supported Mr Hutchings throughout his trial with legal representation and pastoral care, which will continue to be offered to his family.’
The spokesman added: ‘We have not been approached to provide pallbearers for the funeral.’ A spokesman for the Life Guards Association declined to comment.
The funeral for Mr Hutchings will be at St Andrew’s Church in Plymouth on November 11, which is also Remembrance Day.
What is the timeline of the Northern Ireland troubles and peace process?
Police officers and firefighters inspecting the damage caused by a bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998
British Government first send troops into Northern Ireland after three days of rioting in Catholic Londonderry.
30 January 1972
On ‘Bloody Sunday’ 13 civilians are shot dead by the British Army during a civil rights march in Londonderry.
The Stormont Government is dissolved and direct rule imposed by London.
The IRA begin its bloody campaign of bombings and assassinations in Britain.
Bobby Sands, a republicans on hunger strike in the Maze prison, is elected to Parliament. He dies a month later.
An IRA bomb explodes at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party. conference
Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communications was so secret most ministers did not know about it.
Tony Blair helps to broker the Good Friday Agreement, which is hailed as the end of the Troubles.
It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as its first minister.
With some exceptions the peace process holds and republican and loyalist paramilitaries decommission their weapons.
The Queen and Prince Philip make a state visit to Ireland, the first since the 1911 tour by George V.
In a hugely symbolic moment, the Queen is pictured shaking hands with Martin McGuinness – a former IRA leader.
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