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Undated handout file photo of Aidan McAnespie. Family handout/PA
Aidan McAnespie

Suspended sentence for ex-British soldier convicted of 1988 manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie

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

LAST UPDATE | 2 Feb 2023

A FORMER BRITISH soldier found guilty of killing Aidan McAnespie at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago has been given a three-year suspended sentence. 

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

Former Grenadier Guardsman Holden, who was released on bail pending sentencing, was before Belfast Crown Court today.

He was the first veteran to be found guilty of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday 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 local GAA club when he was shot in the back.

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

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

In court today, the judge highlighted five points about the case – Holden was 18 when the killing occurred, he had been convicted of manslaughter and did not intend to kill, he was grossly negligent in wrongly assuming the gun was not cocked, the fact that the gun was cocked and ready to fire was the fault of others and he could not know from looking at the gun if it was cocked.

Justice O’Hara 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.”

david-holden-court-case-belfast Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden, arrives at Laganside Courts, Belfast last week. PA PA

The judge drew attention to victim impact statements given by McAnespie’s family to the court.

He said: “Aidan was the youngest of the six McAnespie children.

“The statements described the devastating impact the killings had on the whole extended family, how it changed their lives and how hugely challenging it has been over decades.

“I have no doubt this was made worse by the family’s sense of injustice that Mr Holden was not brought to trial at the time.

“This is something the family shares with far too many other families in our society who have not seen anyone held to account for all manner of killings, bombings and shootings.

“Included in the statements is a haunting description of Mrs McAnespie walking from her home every night past the Army checkpoint to the point where her son was killed in tears saying the rosary.”

He said: “When I consider the sentence I bear in mind everything which is put before me by counsel and the McAnespie family.”

The case was heard in a Diplock format without a jury sitting.

Supporters of Holden gathered outside the court each day the trial sat.

Members of McAnespie’s family were in court for the sentencing hearing.

Northern Ireland Troubles Bill

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.

In a statement following today’s sentencing, Gráinne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s deputy director in Northern Ireland said: “This case shows that accountability before the law is still possible and must continue”.

“It is vital the UK government shelves its Troubles Bill so other families can also get justice,” Teggart said. 

“Justice delayed does not need to be justice denied, but that’s what many victims will face if the Government continues with its gross betrayal by closing down all paths to justice. 

Teggart said that the UK Government’s claim that the bill is about delivering for victims is “completely disingenuous”.

“Recent proposed amendments pretend to answer people’s concerns but as the overwhelming opposition demonstrates, no one is buying it. It is not too late to put victims at the centre of legacy processes and vindicate their rights,” she said. 

Includes reporting by Press Association

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