Northern Ireland news

Soldier's ‘first day on sangar duty' when Tyrone man was killed

Aidan McAnespie was shot dead close to a checkpoint on the border at Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone in February 1988
Rebecca Black, PA

A defence barrister for a former soldier accused of the manslaughter of a man in Co Tyrone 30 years ago has contended it was his first day on sangar duty.

David Jonathan Holden, 52, is on trial at Belfast Crown Court accused of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988.

Mr McAnespie, 23, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a border security checkpoint.

He was on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association club when he was shot in the back.

Holden denies the offence.

Previously, the court heard that Holden contends he had accidentally squeezed the trigger when moving the gun from right to left in the observation slit

Today, the court considered how much training Holden had received at the time of the fatal shooting.

It heard that Holden had achieved “skilled”, the minimum standard for deployment, in weapons handling training a few days before the incident.

Holden’s defence barrister told the court it is their case it was Holden’s first day doing sangar duty, adding his client had no relevant experience working in a sangar with a machine gun.

The barrister also described some soldiers on duty in Northern Ireland in 1988 as having been “very young”, pointing out his client was just 18 and had only recently had been put on operational duties.

The court heard an assessment of Holden in March 1987 found he was “quite slow to catch on to weapons training”, and “did well” to pass his personal weapon test.

The defence barrister told the court: “He fired a general-purpose machine gun (GPMG) on a very limited number of occasions in England when he was very young. He had never fired a GPMG from a pintle point, he had never fired within a sanger situation, either in training or anything else… all of his training related to when he was in the prone position, firing on a range at 100, 200, 300 and 400 metres.”

A former major in the Grenadier Guards, Aubrey Fletcher, appeared as a witness.

He was the officer commanding of the company Holden was part of, and in 1988 he provided a statement around the death of Mr McAnespie.

Holden joined the army in October 1986, and underwent all aspects of training to July 1987, which included training on a number of guns, of which a general purpose machine gun was one.

Mr Fletcher described Holden as not someone he knew particularly well, adding that he had neither appeared before him for a disciplinary or for excellence.

Holden is a former Grenadier guardsman from England, whose address in court documents was given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.

The case is being heard in a Diplock format without a jury sitting.

It is proceeding amid continuing controversy over Government plans to ban future Troubles-related prosecutions.

Despite announcing its intentions last summer, the Government is yet to table draft legislation in Parliament that would prohibit future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles incidents predating April 1998.

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

The trial will next sit on April 25.

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