British army veteran David Holden guilty of 1988 killing at Northern Ireland checkpoint

Former Grenadier Guard was 18 at the time

Relatives of Aidan McAnespie arrive with supporters at Laganside Courts in Belfast. PA
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Military veteran David Holden has been found guilty of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie who was shot in the back at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland in 1988.

Holden, 52, is the first former soldier to be convicted of a historical offence since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

He denied a charge of gross negligence manslaughter in the non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court. Trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Holden was 18 at the time of the incident and serving in the Grenadier Guards when a bullet discharged from his gun, shooting Mr McAnespie, 23, in the back in County Tyrone.

Mr O'Hara told Belfast Crown Court: “It is suggested on his behalf that it was not exceptionally bad or reprehensible for him to assume that the weapon was not cocked. I fundamentally disagree.

“In my judgment this was the ultimate 'take no chances' situation because the risk of disaster was so great.

“The defendant should have appreciated at the moment he pulled the trigger that if the gun was cocked deadly consequences might follow.

David Holden, left, arrives at Laganside Courts in Belfast. PA

“That is not something which is only apparent with hindsight.

“The defendant took an enormous risk for no reason in circumstances where he was under no pressure and in no danger.

“In light of the foregoing, I find the defendant guilty of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie by gross negligence.”

The shot was fired moments after Mr McAnespie, on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association club, walked through a border security checkpoint.

Aidan McAnespie, who was killed, aged 18. PA

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

Darragh Mackin, lawyer for the family of Aidan McAnespie, said the verdict gave hope to all victims’ families.

“Since 1988 the family have persevered in trying to seek justice against the British Army and Mr Holden for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie,” he said.

“Mr Justice O’Hara found Holden’s evidence ‘entirely unconvincing’, ‘incoherent’, and described his account as a ‘deliberately false account’.

“We welcome this decision which gives all victims’ families here hope that the courts remain open to families seeking justice.”

The trial proceeded amid continuing controversy over the British government's plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proposes 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.

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

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

Paul Young, national spokesman for the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, said he was saddened by the verdict.

“Veterans will be deeply disappointed by this verdict, I’m saddened by it, but it’s not over for David yet because his team, as far as I’m aware, are going to appeal the decision, and I think eventually, if necessary, go to the Supreme Court,” he said.

“For us the witch hunt continues, that’s why we support this legacy bill that is going through parliament right now which will stop any further prosecutions of veterans that have been previously investigated,” he added.

“The terrorists have effectively got an amnesty … with letters of comfort, royal pardons.”

The Holden case is one of a series of high-profile prosecutions of veterans that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.

Updated: November 25, 2022, 2:36 PM
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