'Shots which killed man were fired accidentally', ex-soldier told police

Aidan McAnespie was killed moments after walking through a border security checkpoint. Credit: PA Images

An ex-soldier who shot and killed a man in Northern Ireland during the Troubles insisted in police interviews he accidentally fired, a court was told.

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

He denies the offence.

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.

Giving evidence at the trial on Friday was former RUC detective chief inspector Colville Stewart, who interviewed Holden the day after Mr Anespie died.

Defence barrister Frank O'Donoghue cross-examined the former police officer on his written account of the interview.

Mr O'Donoghue said: "You say you conducted an interview in Dungannon of the defendant. It lasted the best part of five hours. It was quite a lengthy interview.

"Mr Holden gave quite an extensive explanation to you at a point in time when he wasn't under caution?"

Mr Stewart replied: "That is correct."

The barrister continued: "The defendant was 18 years old. Do you remember him as a young man?"

Mr Stewart said: "I remember he was a scared young man."

Mr O'Donoghue said: "You say Holden gave a detailed account of what had taken place in the north sangar the previous day, admitted responsibility for discharging the GPMG (general-purpose machine gun), but stressed emphatically that he had accidentally squeezed the trigger when moving the gun from right to left in the observation slit.

"He also claimed that the weapon was left in the cocked position by some of the other soldiers, who had handled it during the morning during reloading after its barrel was removed for cleaning.

"He denied cocking it himself or aiming it at McAnespie, who he knew to be a suspected terrorist.

"He was frank with you about knowing McAnespie and his status. He was frank with you about the fact that he had squeezed the trigger - but he maintained his position that he was not responsible for cocking this weapon.

"And that was a case he was making from the very earliest point until the very latest point. And he never deviated from that?"

Mr Stewart responded: "Never."

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 continues.