Justice at last for Aidan McAnespie's family

It will be widely accepted that the then serving British soldier David Holden should have been duly convicted shortly after he killed the innocent civilian Aidan McAnespie on the Tyrone/Monaghan border in 1998 and sentenced to a significant jail term.

While it took more than 34 years for the correct outcome to be reached last Friday, and nothing can bring Mr McAnespie back from the dead, justice has finally been given to his family.

There were many other appalling atrocities which were carried out by republicans and loyalists over the last six decades and did not result in anyone being held to account through our judicial system.

However, there will always be a particular focus on deaths which involve the forces of the state targeting its own citizens with all the enormous powers at its disposal.

It had been well documented that Mr McAnespie (23) had been regularly threatened by British soldiers, and a report in a Sunday newspaper before his death described how he was routinely harassed whenever he attempted to drive near the large military checkpoint which dominated his home village of Aughnacloy.

He decided it was safer to walk past the installation, and set out on foot to attend a GAA match a short distance away in February, 1988, when he plainly placed no threat to anyone.

David Holden, then an 18-year-old member of the British Army regiment the Grenadier Guards, was on duty in a watchtower and armed with a heavy machine gun.

Three high calibre bullets were fired without warning at Mr McAnespie, one of which was said to have ricocheted off the ground and fatally wounded him after striking him in the back.

David Holden admitted responsibility, claiming his finger slipped on the trigger because his hands had been wet from cleaning duties, and in September, 1988, he was charged with killing Mr McAenspie.

The prosecution was then abruptly dropped in disturbing and insulting circumstances but his unlikely explanation was rejected by a judge after a new trial more than three decades later and he has finally brought to account.

Mr McAnespie’s family deserve enormous credit for their fortitude in pursuing their case although the eventual sentence for David Holden has yet to be announced.

What should be accepted across the board is that the British government’s wider attempts to deal with legacy issues, regardless of their political background, are deeply flawed, and even at this late stage should be reviewed immediately.