Ex-soldier who shot dead civilian during Troubles convicted of manslaughter | Northern Ireland

A former soldier who shot dead a civilian as he walked through a British army checkpoint in Northern Ireland during the Troubles has been convicted of manslaughter in a Belfast court.

David Jonathan Holden, 53, who was serving with the Grenadier Guards when he shot Aidan McAnespie on 21 February 1988, admitted firing the shot but said his finger slipped on the trigger.

Manslaughter charges against Holden were dropped two years later, prompting a long and eventually successful campaign by McAnespie’s family for a fresh prosecution that culminated in Friday’s verdict, 34 years later.

Aidan McAnespie
Aidan McAnespie. Photograph: PA

The 23-year-old Catholic was on his way home from a Gaelic football match across the Irish border when he passed the checkpoint in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone. He was hit in the back by one of three shots fired from a machine gun that according to forensic evidence ricocheted off the road. He died at the scene.

Holden is the first army veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

The verdict came as the UK government pushes ahead with controversial legislation that proposes an effective amnesty for those accused of killing or maiming people during the Troubles. Critics say it is an attempt to shield army veterans from justice.

The shooting of McAnespie has been a high-profile case, with Conservative MPs and other supporters of Holden, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, calling the prosecution vexatious.

McAnespie’s family said security forces had harassed him repeatedly before the shooting and then closed ranks to protect Holden. Holden said his hands were wet and his finger slipped on the trigger. He was fined for negligent discharge of his weapon and medically discharged from the army.

Holden arriving at Laganside courts in Belfast
Holden arriving at Laganside courts in Belfast on Friday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

In 2008, a report by the historical enquiries team – an agency tasked with investigating unsolved crimes during the Troubles – said the soldier’s description of events was the “least likely version” of what happened. In 2009, the British government issued an apology and expressed “deep regret” over McAnespie’s death.

Speaking before the verdict, Margo McAnespie said her brother’s life had been snatched away. “We have always believed that the fundamental right of access to the justice system should be available to us and that the full events surrounding Aidan’s death should be presented in an open court to provide the opportunity for truth and justice. Our determination to ensure this has been our motivation throughout the years.”

She added: “Unfortunately, the years in getting to this point has meant that our sister Eilish, our mother, Lizzie, and, more recently, our father, John, are no longer with us and that will make Friday all the more difficult for us as a family. We will be thinking of Aidan and all of them on Friday morning but take comfort in knowing they will be with us in spirit.”

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *