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The family of Aidan McAnespie and their supporters outside Belfast Crown Court after today's sentencing hearing Alamy Stock Photo
Aidan McAnespie

'We didn't want a pound of flesh': Aidan McAnespie's brother critical of sentence for David Holden

David Jonathan Holden, 53, was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court this afternoon.

THE BROTHER OF Aidan McAnespie has said the suspended sentencing of David Holden is “disappointing”. 

David Jonathan Holden, 53, was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court this afternoon, but judge Mr Justice O’Hara suspended the term for three years.

Holden was convicted last year at Belfast Crown Court of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988, the first veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the peace agreement.

Aidan McAnespie, 23, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a border security checkpoint.

He was on his way to a GAA club when he was shot in the back.

Holden had admitted firing the shot which killed McAnespie, but had said he had fired the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.

But Justice O’Hara said last year he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

In court today, the judge said: “In his evidence during the trial, the defendant did not take the opportunity to express remorse. He could have done so, even in the context contesting the case.

“That would have been helpful.”

The judge added: “The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and then to the court, to some limited degree that is an aggravating feature.”

Speaking outside the court today, Sean McAnespie, the brother of Aidan McAnespie, said his family had not wanted a “pound of flesh”, but “truth and justice”.

He said:

“The suspended sentence is disappointing, but the most important point is that David Holden was found guilty of the unlawful killing of our brother Aidan.

“We are glad we had our day in court. David Holden could have given an honest account of what happened that day but didn’t. The judge was clear he had given a deliberately false version of events.

“Prior to his killing Aidan suffered extensive harassment from the security forces for over 10 years.

“Not a day passes when we don’t miss Aidan.

“He (Holden) had a chance at the start of this trial to come out and tell the truth and admit what he done. He dragged us through the courts for years. We lost our father and sister in the duration of that.

“We weren’t looking for a pound of flesh, we were looking for truth and justice.”

Brian Gormley, cousin of Aidan McAnespie, said today represents “a very long journey for the family in terms of pursuing justice”. 

“The most important thing in this case is that David Holden has been found guilty of the unlawful killing of Aidan McAnespie,” Gormley said. 

“Many other soldiers and many other members of the security forces could also have been up in that court today,” he said. 

“David Holden has had ample opportunities to give an honest version of events which happened on that day. He didn’t take that opportunity.

“We came here with an open mind. It is not in our power to give out sentences.”


Paul Young, from the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, described the sentence handed down to Holden as “extremely harsh”.

The Northern Ireland Veterans Movement campaigns against the prosecution of soldiers who served in the region.

“We believe that the sentence today was extremely harsh, considering the passage of time and what David Holden has had to go through over the last number of years,” Young said. 

“When you compare this to the Good Friday Agreement and the deals that were struck about terrorists, that they would never serve more than two years if they were convicted of any legacy offence,” he said. 

“Now we have David Holden convicted for a manslaughter through gross negligence so there is clearly a disparity between terrorists and the security forces that served in Northern Ireland,” Young added. 

“It is a disgrace and should never have happened.”

Reacting to the sentencing today, Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan said the “security services stood as the protectors of all the people of Northern Ireland during the dark days of our Troubles”. 

“The professional and dedicated service of 300,000 service personnel, who served during Operation Banner, should not be allowed to be forgotten or rewritten in history for something it wasn’t,” he said. 

“The same cannot be said for the terrorists who actively went out to murder, maim and terrorise through a campaign of bombings, shootings, punishment beatings and intimidation, whose intent was solely to cause harm, loss of life, injury and fear,” the Commissioner said. 

He said that “finding a way forward on legacy issues is absolutely key to allowing veterans, many in the twilight of life, to hold their heads high and be proud of what they did to protect society”. 

The sentencing comes amid ongoing controversy over UK Government plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proposals provide an effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict, if they agree to co-operate with a new body, known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir).

The Bill would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.

With reporting by Press Association

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