Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer has spoken of his devastation at the death of his “dear friend” Dennis Hutchings.
The Plymouth MP also blamed the trial he was undergoing as having “killed him”.
The former soldier died in hospital in Belfast on Monday after testing positive for Covid-19.
The 80-year-old had been in Northern Ireland in recent weeks to stand trial on charges of attempted murder over the death of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974, which he denied.
The trial had been sitting for just three days a week to allow Hutchings to receive dialysis treatment, and was adjourned on Monday for three weeks due to his ill-health.
Mr Mercer had accompanied Hutchings to Belfast and was at the Army veteran’s side a number of times as he walked into court.
On Tuesday the Conservative MP for Plymouth said he remains “fiercely proud” of him.
He tweeted: “I’m devastated by the death of my dear friend Dennis Hutchings”, describing him as “polite, kind, generous and strong”.
“He was determined to prove his innocence against the unrelenting efforts of those who wish to rewrite the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland against his generation of servicemen and women who bled and died to keep the peace,” Mr Mercer said.
“I have huge admiration and respect for his resilience, and that of his family and his partner Kim.
“In a nation that is quick to forget the price of the freedoms we enjoy, it was a privilege to be close to him, and I remain fiercely proud of him.”
In an interview with Times Radio, Mr Mercer said he felt the trial “killed him”.
“He was seriously ill when he flew out for this trial. He’s on dialysis every other day. The logistical arrangements for getting into Northern Ireland and making sure that he could do his dialysis every other day were huge,” he said.
“He was unwell before and he was under strong advice not to travel. So he wasn’t in a particularly good state.
“But clearly, you know, he would not have caught Covid if he wasn’t there. If he had not attended this trial, he would be alive.
“Today, the trial killed him. And for me that, you know, it’s shocking, it was always the worst outcome, it was the outcome I was most concerned about.
“And it has a profound impact, I think on everyone involved in supporting him and trying to support all of those going through this process.”
Mr Mercer lashed Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, for “missing deadlines” on a promised statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions.
“For a lot of people, it’s a theory, it’s a game. For Brandon Lewis, you know, he makes a commitment, he misses his deadlines,” he said.
“Well, the net impact of that is what we’ve seen over the last 24 hours with Dennis Hutchings. So I’m afraid it leaves one feeling pretty sore about about the whole thing.”
The former veterans minister also blamed politicians more generally for the impasse on tackling legacy issues.
“Four years ago, Prime Minister Theresa May started saying things on this,” he said.
“Two years ago, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, he signed a veterans pledge to you in black and white before your eyes that he would stop this process in Northern Ireland. And he has not done so. And and Dennis has now died.
“So look, I mean, it’s pretty clear who’s on the hook for it. You know, politicians who I’m afraid care, but just don’t care quite enough to actually do anything about it.”
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