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Aidan McAnespie died after being shot in the back as he made his way to a GAA match in 1988. PA
The Troubles

Former British soldier to stand trial over Troubles-era killing of Aidan McAnespie

A cousin of Aidan McAnespie said today’s decision came as a “relief” to the family.

A FORMER BRITISH soldier has lost a bid to have a manslaughter case against him dropped before it reaches trial.

David Holden, 51, will appear at Belfast Crown Court next month when he will be formally charged with unlawfully killing Aidan McAnespie on 21 February 1988. 

Mr Justice O’Hara rejected an application made on behalf of Holden to quash the case, and expressed the hope that a trial can take place before Christmas. 

Aidan McAnespie died after being shot in the back as he made his way to a GAA match in February 1988. 

The 23-year-old had just walked past a British Army checkpoint in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone when he died. 

Former Grenadier Guardsman Holden, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, claims his hand was wet and his finger slipped on the machine gun trigger, discharging three bullets.

One of the shots hit Mr McAnespie in the back, after ricocheting off the road.

Holden was initially charged with manslaughter, but the charge was dropped in September 1988. 

In 2014, following requests by the McAnespie family, the case was re-examined by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and a decision not to prosecute Holden was taken. 

Following an investigation into the shooting by the Historical Enquiries Team, the case was referred back to the PPS in 2016 by the Attorney General.

On that occasion, a decision was made to prosecute the former soldier on a charge of manslaughter. 

Lawyers for the ex-soldier made an application to have the case dismissed, arguing that the evidence against him is insufficient.

But prosecutors claimed the accused’s explanation for firing is “implausible” as a wet finger would not apply sufficient pressure to pull a trigger.

Both Holden and several members of Aidan McAnespie’s family attended the hearing remotely, via video link. 

Mr Justice O’Hara said that after careful consideration, he was satisfied there was “sufficient evidence to justify putting the defendant on trial for manslaughter”. 

Holden will be formally charged with Aidan McAnespie’s manslaughter when the case is listed again on 10 September. 

A cousin of Aidan McAnespie said today’s decision came as a “relief” to the family. 

“It’s a welcome decision on behalf of the family and has been a relief obviously because of all the talk going around at the minute about amnesties and stuff so you never knew what way Aidan’s case was going to be dealt with,” Brian Gormley told Drivetime on RTÉ.  

A solicitor for the family of Aidan McAnespie welcomed today’s development.

“Today’s decision marks the end of the pretrial attempts to have the case thrown out and the matter will now proceed to a formal trial or a trial at this side of Christmas,” Darragh Mackin, of Phoenix Law, said. 

“That has been made clear today by Mr Justice O’Hara that a trial in this case will be expedited and will be heard this side of Christmas, which has considerable significance, when we look at the fact that the British government are currently proposing an end to such prosecutions. 

“And the reality is the expeditious trial in this case will ensure that Mr Holden faces trial before any proposal comes into force.

“We believe that with the correct momentum this matter can now proceed expeditiously and without any further delay and certainly prior to any further change in the law.”

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