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Aidan McAnespie was shot close to a checkpoint in Co Tyrone in 1988 PA

Former British soldier convicted of killing Aidan McAnespie to be sentenced next week

He will serve a maximum of two years in jail regardless of the sentence, under a clause in the Good Friday Agreement.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Jan 2023

A FORMER BRITISH soldier found guilty of killing a man at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago is to be sentenced next week.

In November, David Jonathan Holden, 53, was convicted of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988.

He was the first British veteran to be found guilty of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.

Holden, who was released on bail pending sentencing, returned to the Belfast Crown Court today for the sentence hearing.

Before hearing the pleas from both sides, the judge told the court that as “there are a number of issues that I have to consider”, he would not pass sentence today.

The sentence will be given next Thursday on 2 February, the court heard.

Regardless of what sentence is handed down, he will only serve a maximum of two years in jail under the early-release provisions of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

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

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

david-holden-court-case-belfast In November, Holden, was convicted of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988. PA PA

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

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

He found that Holden had pointed a machine gun at McAnespie and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun was not cocked.

Delivering judgment in the non-jury trial, the judge said: “That assumption should not have been made.”

He also said the former soldier had given a “deliberately false account” of what happened.

The judge said: “The question for me is this – just how culpable is the defendant in the circumstances of this case?

“In my judgment he is beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable.”

The sentence hearing comes amid ongoing controversy over the UK government’s plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s 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.

Gráinne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Deputy Director in the North, said it has been a “long fight by the family for justice”.

She added: “The significance of this case is clear both for the McAnespies and particularly at a time when the UK government continues to push through the overwhelmingly opposed Troubles Bill.”

Meanwhile, Sean McAnespie, brother of Aidan McAnespie said: “In all that David Holden’s legal team had to say, one thing was blatantly missing: he never said sorry. After nearly 35 years, it is clear the only remorse he has is for himself.  

“What about the impact on our family and the loss of our brother, son and best friend?” 

-With additional reporting by Diarmuid Pepper

Press Association