Former British soldier David Holden convicted of manslaughter of Catholic Aidan McAnespie in 1988 in Northern Ireland | UK News

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A former British soldier has been found guilty of murdering a Catholic man who was shot dead in Northern Ireland in 1988 during the Troubles.

David Holden becomes the first veteran to be convicted of a historic offense since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Aidan McAnespie was killed in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, 34 years ago after going through a border security check.

The 23-year-old had been on his way to a Gaelic football match when he was shot in the back.

Holden, who was 18 at the time and served with the Grenadier Guards, had admitted firing the shot that killed Mr. McAnespie, but had said he had fired the weapon accidentally because his hands were wet.

The 53-year-old had denied the charge of grossly negligent manslaughter at his trial without a jury at Belfast Crown Court.

But the trial judge, Mr Justice O’Hara, said he was convinced the defendant was guilty.

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

He told Belfast Crown Court: “That assumption should not have been made.”

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

Aidan McAnespie
Aidan McAnespie was on his way to a Gaelic football match when he was shot in the back

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

“In my judgment, he is criminally guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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

“In my estimation, this was the ultimate ‘take no chances’ situation because the risk of disaster was so great.

“The defendant should have understood at the moment he pulled the trigger that cocking the gun could have fatal consequences.

“It is not something that is only clearly seen in hindsight.

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

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

The scene at the Aughnacloy border crossing where Aidan McAnespie was shot dead.  Image: Pacemaker Press
The scene at the Aughnacloy border crossing where McAnespie was shot dead. Image: Pacemaker Press

During the trial, Holden confirmed that he had previously checked McAnespie’s car registration and identified him as a “person of interest” to the security forces – a fact which was emphasized by the prosecution.

In his closing submissions, Crown counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said: “The one person he was aware of and in whom he had an interest was Aidan McAnespie.

“Of all the areas he could have hit with a ricochet or something, he managed to hit the very target of his surveillance.”

To date, six former soldiers have been charged with historic offenses in Northern Ireland but cases against four collapsed, and one died during the trial.

Family members of Aidan McAnespie were in court
Members of the dead man’s family were in court to hear the guilty verdict

Last year, the British government introduced a bill to address the legacy of the Troubles and effectively end the historic prosecution of former British soldiers.

Under the legislation, those who cooperate with investigations led by a new truth recovery agency will be granted immunity from prosecution.

But the legislation, which offers a conditional amnesty to both ex-soldiers and ex-terrorists, has been fiercely opposed by all victims.

On Wednesday, the government confirmed it will bring forward changes, including a “more robust process” around immunity from prosecution.

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