Northern Ireland news

Judgement reserved in Aidan McAnespie manslaughter case

Aidan McAnespie was shot dead in 1988

JUDGEMENT was reserved today in the case of a former soldier accused of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie more than 34 years ago.

At Belfast Crown Court, counsel for the prosecution and defence made closing submissions to Mr Justice O'Hara who has been sitting on the non-jury Diplock-style trial.

David Jonathan Holden (52), c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast, has denied the gross negligent manslaughter of Mr McAnespie.

The 23-year-old was killed on the Monaghan Road in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, on Sunday, February 21, 1988 seconds after walking unarmed through a fortified border security checkpoint while on his way to a local GAA club.

Mr Holden was aged 18 at the time and was serving with the Grendier Guards from England.

During his trial, the defendant denied deliberately aiming the general purpose machine gun (GPMG) at Mr McAnespie, saying the shooting was "accidental''. He added that his finger was only on the trigger for "seconds'' and his hands were wet from cleaning duties in the fortified sangar.

He said that after the weapon had discharged three rounds, he did not know if anyone had been struck and he could no longer see Mr McAnespie has he had gone round a bend into a "blindspot'' on the road.

Mr Holden also confirmed that Mr McAnespie was a "person of interest'' to the security forces.

In his closing submission, Crown counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said that the evidence in the case showed that Mr Holden "did not want from the outset to make any admission that he had been training the gun on Mr McAnespie because if he had been training the gun on him he would have known about the consequences of his actions''.

Mr Murphy said that the prosecution did not accept Mr Holden's theory that he had wet hands ten minutes after his cleaning duties, that he lost control of the weapon, his finger slipped and he "squeezed the trigger'.''

"Squeezing the trigger means 'I intentionally pulled the trigger', not that his hand slipped. This was a deliberate act,'' said the prosecutor.

"The only reason he squeezed the trigger was when he looked down the barrel of the weapon in the direction of his surveillance target, he saw Mr McAnespie, he pulled the trigger and fired three shots, killing Mr McAnespie which was a grossly negligent act.

"He failed in his duties when he squeezed that trigger resulting in catastrophic consequences. He didn't intend to kill him but he did pull the trigger.''

In reply, defence counsel Frank O'Donoghue QC said Mr Holden had given a clear account at the time of what happened at the checkpoint which "could not be disproved and it was not a lying account''.

Mr O'Donoghue said it was now accepted that Mr Holden did not cock the GMPG, no drill had been carried out about the safe hand over of the weapon to him that afternoon and Mr Holden is not to be criticised for failing to take any steps to make sure the gun was safe.

He added that there was a reasonable probability that the weapon was "mistakenly left in a cocked position by a third party and not by Mr Holden''.

"And if that is right we have to look at the criminal culpability of my client through the proposition that he assumed responsibility for this GPMG as an 18-year-old soldier on his first day in the sangar.

"This was against the background of his superior officers who had allowed him to be in possession of a cocked weapon which was ready to fire without informing him that he could not rely on the safety drill he had been put through at 8.30 am that morning,'' said Mr O'Donoghue.

Following submissions, Mr Justice O'Hara said he would give his ruling as soon as possible.

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