The family of Troubles veteran Dennis Hutchings last night slammed military top brass after a request for serving soldiers to carry his coffin was allegedly blocked.
Supporters of Mr Hutchings, who died last week while on trial in Belfast over a fatal 1974 shooting, are campaigning for members of his former Army regiment, the Life Guards, to act as pallbearers at his funeral on Remembrance Day.
However, a request made on Friday through the regiment by a former major who served in Northern Ireland alongside Mr Hutchings is said to have been denied by the Life Guards’ commanding officer.
Dennis Hutchings (pictured in 1978) 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
Yesterday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards, stoked a military row as he appeared to back Mr Hutchings’ family – and vowed to ‘find out who stopped’ the plans.
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, 80, was supported by thousands of veterans when he travelled to Belfast this month to stand trial for attempted murder, despite suffering from kidney failure.
Mr Hutchings’s supporters outside Belfast Crown Court earlier this month.
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 then contracted Covid-19 and died alone in hospital on October 18, despite pleas to return to his native Cornwall to continue treatment.
While it is up to each regiment to decide whether it grants military funerals for retired soldiers, Mr Hutchings’ family were reportedly told it could not be accommodated because he was no longer serving.
Last night his son John Hutchings said: ‘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’.
Mr Hutchings fell ill days into the trial. He then contracted Covid-19 and died alone in hospital on October 18, despite pleas to return to his native Cornwall to continue treatment
The 88-year-old added: ‘I think it ought to be and I’m disgusted he can’t have it.’
Mr Hutchings will have a regimental trumpeter at the service in Plymouth on November 11 – a date which was offered by coincidence but will have much significance to the thousands of mourners expected to attend.
Former veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer, who will speak at the funeral, said: ‘I will do all I can to fulfil the family’s wishes.’
An MoD spokesman said: ‘The MoD supported Mr Hutchings throughout his trial with legal representation and pastoral care, which will continue to be offered to his family. We have not been approached to provide pallbearers for the funeral.’
A spokesman for the Life Guards Association declined to comment.
In February, six Yorkshire Regiment members acted as pallbearers for Captain Sir Tom Moore.