Northern Ireland news

Aidan McAnespie family hope for answers as soldier who fired fatal shot faces prosecution

Aidan McAnespie's cousin John Gormley, sister Margo, father John, brother Vincent and family solicitor Darragh Mackin following a meeting with the PPS. Picture by Mal McCann
Connla Young

A decision by the Public Prosecution Service to charge the British soldier who shot Aidan McAnespie 30 years ago has been welcomed by his family.

The 23-year-old was killed close to a checkpoint at Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone in 1988 as he made his way to Aghaloo GAC's grounds.

It is understood former Grenadier Guardsman David Jonathan Holden was notified by email yesterday that he will now be prosecuted for the offence of gross negligence manslaughter.

It is expected formal papers will be served on his legal representatives in the coming weeks.


Representatives of the PPS met yesterday with members of the McAnespie family, including his elderly father John, to explain their decision.

Aidan McAnespie was shot dead in February 1988

The British army claimed that three shots were fired from inside a sanger after a general purpose machine gun (GPMG) Holden was moving slipped from his hands, which were said to be wet at the time.

Claims that he was struck by a ricochet bullet are not accepted by the McAnespie family.

Holden, who was aged 18 at the time, was originally charged with manslaughter in 1988 but this was later dropped.

Aidan McAnespie's father John, brother Vincent, sister Margo, cousin Brian Gormley and solicitor Darragh Mackin. Picture by Mal McCann

Fined for negligent discharge of his weapon, he later returned to duty before being given a medical discharge in 1990.

It is understood a new firearms report compiled by two independent experts formed part of the fresh decision to prosecute.

The now defunct police Historical Enquiries Team produced a report into the killing in 2008.

Aidan McAnespie's father John, cousin Brian Gormley and sister Margo. Picture by Mal McCann.

In 2016 Attorney General John Larkin was asked by the McAnespie family to order a new inquest and later referred the case to then PPS director Barra McGrory.

Mr McAnespie’s brother Vincent said the family is “very happy” with the decision to prosecute.

He said the family had faced a "brick wall" in their 30-year campaign for truth.

"It's truth and justice we want to get,” he said.

"He was just an ordinary local lad from the community that just wanted to go about his ordinary everyday life."

Aughnacloy border crossing where Aidan McAnespie (23) was shot dead on the way to a GAA match. Picture by Pacemaker

His cousin Brian Gormley said the evidence has been available for years.

"Thankfully we welcome the decision from the PPS that eventually they are going to act on it,” he said.

The family’s solicitor Darragh Mackin said: “We welcome this decision, it’s 30 years in the making and the family has always held that Aidan was unlawfully killed and today is an exoneration of that campaign.”

A PPS spokeswoman said: "Following careful consideration of all the evidence currently available in the case, and having received advice from senior counsel, it has been decided to prosecute a former soldier for the offence of gross negligence manslaughter."

Aidan McAnespie's funeral in 1988

In recent months the Irish government has come under pressure to release a report it commissioned after the Tyrone man was killed but which has never been published.

Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon last night called for it to be handed over.

“Hopefully this will begin the process of closure for the family,” she said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, meanwhile, said it is "time that justice was delivered for everyone and that justice must be seen to be balanced and fair".

“I have no issue in the DPP making decisions to prosecute former solders if that’s where the evidence leads, just as long as exactly the same process applies equally to everyone, including those who were involved in terrorism.”

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