Published Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Charlie Agnew, nephew of John Pat Cunningham. (© PA)
John Pat Cunningham was killed by soldiers from the Life Guard Regiment near his home in Benburb, Co Armagh in June 1974.
The 27-year-old had a mental age of less than ten and was scared of men in uniforms, a fear of which the army had previously been made aware.
A Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigation into Mr Cunningham's death found there were no grounds for the rearrest of two soldiers suspected of the killing, who have refused to give an account of the shooting.
Mr Cunningham's nephew Charlie Agnew said: "John Pat may have been disabled but he was a human being with exactly the same rights as anyone else.
"The question must be asked: 'Did the British Army consider John Pat 'disposable'?"
Mr Cunningham was on his way home from helping out at the Servite Priory when he was approached by a military patrol on the Carrickaness Road.
The soldiers were following up after a separate patrol was involved in a shooting with IRA gunmen two days earlier.
The victim was startled by the soldiers and, as he jumped into a field and began to run home, he was chased by the two servicemen who shouted for him to stop.
Evidence from Soldier E, who was not involved in the pursuit, revealed he believed the man may have been armed.
Two troops fired five shots and Mr Cunningham died where he fell. His cause of death was recorded as a bullet wound to his trunk, and it was not possible to determine who fired the fatal shot.
Andrew Robathan, Minister for the Armed Forces, said it was right and proper to make an apology on behalf of the Government.
I do not believe that anything I can say will ease the sorrow you feel for the death of a much-loved relative, but I hope that the findings of the HET and our full and sincere apology will be of value by setting the record straight on these tragic events.
The HET report found Mr Cunningham should not have died, and the refusal of the two soldiers involved to participate in the investigation meant the full facts of the incident had never been made clear.
"He was a vulnerable adult who was unarmed and shot as he was running away from soldiers. There is no evidence that he posed a threat to the soldiers or anyone else," stated the report.
Soldiers A and B were interviewed under caution by the RUC and they exercised their right to silence.
The original case papers were not available to the HET, therefore the report found it was not possible to determine whether the original investigation into Mr Cunningham's death was independent.
But the report stated: "HET also concluded that by not obtaining the soldier's (sic) account of what happened more vigorously, the investigation was not as thorough or effective as it could have been.
"They have both chosen not to engage and there are no grounds to arrest and further interview them under caution. There are therefore no new lines of enquiry to progress the investigation into John Pat's death."
Mr Agnew said the soldiers had never been compelled to account for themselves.
"He was a completely innocent man who did not deserve to die," he said.
"In our opinion those who murdered him disgraced themselves, their uniform and the state in whose name they bear arms."
Family solicitor Kevin Winters has written to Attorney General John Larkin QC asking for a fresh inquiry.
He has sought a new compensation settlement after £750 was granted originally, and asked PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to make the soldiers accountable.