Veteran soldier David Holden given suspended sentence for Aidan McAnespie killing

A veteran solider has been given a suspended sentence for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie at a security checkpoint more than 30 years ago.

David Jonathan Holden, 53, was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court, but judge Mr Justice O'Hara suspended the term for three years.

He is the first soldier to be prosecuted for a Troubles-related era in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Mr McAnespie, 23, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a security checkpoint on the Irish border

He was on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association club when he was shot in the back.

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

David Holden at a previous court hearing.

But Justice O'Hara said last year he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

In court on Thursday, the judge highlighted five points about the case -

  • Holden was 18 when the killing occurred.

  • He had been convicted of manslaughter and did not intend to kill.

  • He was grossly negligent in wrongly assuming the gun was not cocked.

  • The fact that the gun was cocked and ready to fire was the fault of others

  • And he could not know from looking at the gun if it was cocked.

Justice O'Hara said: "In his evidence during the trial, the defendant did not take the opportunity to express remorse. He could have done so, even in the context of contesting the case.

"That would have been helpful."

The judge added: "The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and then to the court, to some limited degree that is an aggravating feature."

The judge drew attention to victim impact statements given by Mr McAnespie's family to the court.

He said: "Aidan was the youngest of the six McAnespie children.

"The statements described the devastating impact the killings had on the whole extended family, how it changed their lives and how hugely challenging it has been over the last 30 years.

"I have no doubt this was made worse by the family's sense of injustice that Mr Holden was not brought to trial at the time.

"This is something the family shares with far too many other families in our society who have not seen anyone held to account for all manner of killings, bombings and shootings.

"Included in the statements is a haunting description of Mrs McAnespie walking from her home every night past the Army checkpoint to the point where her son was killed in tears saying the rosary."

He said: "When I consider the sentence I bear in mind everything which is put before me by counsel and the McAnespie family."

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 was heard in a Diplock format without a jury sitting. Supporters of Holden gathered outside the court each day the trial sat.

Members of Mr McAnespie's family were in court for the sentencing hearing.

A representative of a veterans' organisation described the sentence handed down to Holden as "extremely harsh".

Paul Young, from the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, which campaigns against the prosecution of soldiers who served here, said: "We believe that the sentence today was extremely harsh, considering the passage of time and what David Holden has had to go through over the last number of years.

"When you compare this to the Good Friday Agreement and the deals that were struck about terrorists, that they would never serve more than two years if they were convicted of any legacy offence.

"Now we have David Holden convicted for a manslaughter through gross negligence so there is clearly a disparity between terrorists and the security forces that served in Northern Ireland.

"It is a disgrace and should never have happened."

The trial proceeded amid continuing 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.

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

The Holden case is one of a series of high-profile prosecutions of veterans along with the case of Soldier F that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.

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