Northern Ireland news

British Army veteran convicted of Aidan McAnespie killing set to be sentenced

Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden, arrives at Laganside Courts, Belfast for a previous hearing (Brian Lawless/PA)
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

A former soldier found guilty of killing a man at a British Army checkpoint more than 30 years ago is expected to be sentenced later.

In November, David Jonathan Holden, 53, was convicted of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988.

Former Grenadier Guardsman Holden, who was released on bail pending sentencing, is due to return to Belfast Crown Court today.

He was the first veteran to be found guilty of a historical offence since the Good Friday Agreement.

Depending on the sentence imposed, Holden could benefit from the agreement’s controversial early release scheme for prisoners. That would mean he would serve a maximum of two years.

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 GAA club when he was shot in the back.

Holden had admitted firing the shot which killed Mr McAnespie, but had said he had discharged the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.

But trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

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

Delivering judgment in the non-jury trial, the judge said: “That assumption should not have been made.”

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

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

“In my judgment he is beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable.”

During a sentencing hearing last week, a defence barrister said imposing a custodial sentence on Holden would be “unjust and unfair”.

Frank O’Donoghue said the veteran had led an “otherwise unblemished life” and there was evidence of “genuine remorse”.

Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy raised the “profound loss” suffered by the McAnespie family and the “enormous risk” taken by Holden when he was in no danger.

The sentence hearing comes amid ongoing controversy over Government plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proposals provide an effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict, if they agree to co-operate with a new body, known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir).

The Bill would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.