Relief for McAnespie family after long awaited verdict
Just before 11am yesterday, family and friends of Aidan McAnespie filed into the public gallery of Court 16 at Belfast Crown Court to await the verdict of trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara.
At the far end of the public gallery benches sat a few supporters of the defendant David Holden. Dressed in a grey suit, shirt and red striped tie, the former guardsman stepped into the dock to await his fate.
All had been waiting eagerly for this judgment since the manslaughter trial concluded in July this year.
After just over an hour of reading from his written judgment, Mr Justice O'Hara uttered the words Mr McAnespie's family had been waiting to hear for 34 years: "I find the defendant guilty of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie by gross negligence.''
Outside the courtroom on level four of Laganside Court Complex, relatives of Mr McAnespie stood in floods of tears at the guilty verdict, many hugging each other at the news that they had finally received justice for his unlawful killing three decades ago.
Two tearful women hugged each other. In their tight embrace, one said: "I just can't believe it.''
The family and friends later filed out onto Chichester Street where they spoke to waiting reporters and camera crews about the guilty verdict.
The victim's brother Sean, who was visibly emotional, said: "I am here to speak on behalf of the Aidan McAnespie family.
"We have been waiting for this for 34 years. We never thought we would get it but we got it.
"My mother and father prayed and prayed for this day and they are not here to see it.
"As a family we are very relieved and happy. With the help of family, cousins, the community and relations, they helped us through this. It took the whole lot to get us over the line.
"We would also like to thank the media for helping us along as well.''
The relief of the McAnespie family was in stark contrast to that of David Holden's supporters who branded the case a "witch hunt''.
Paul Young, spokesperson for the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV) group, told reporters: "I can say that veterans will be deeply disappointed by this verdict.
"I am saddened by the verdict but it is not over for David (Holden) because his legal team, as far as I am aware, will be appealing the decision.
"And I think eventually they will be going to the Supreme Court so I don't want to really comment much more on that as it is going to be sub-judice.
"I understand that the (McAnespie) family are going to feel completely different to us veterans and will have their time to say what they say.
"But for us the witch hunt continues. That's why we support the legacy bill that is going through parliament now which will stop any further prosecutions of veterans that have previously been investigated,'' added Mr Young.