Aidan McAnespie: Former soldier David Jonathan Holden found guilty over 1988 Troubles killing

A former soldier has been found guilty of killing a man at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago.

David Jonathan Holden, 53, was on trial at Belfast Crown Court for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnsby in February 1988.

Mr McAnespie, 23, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after he crossed a border security checkpoint.

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He was on his way to a local Gaelic Sports Association club when he injured his back.

Holden had confessed to firing the shot that killed Mr. McCansby, but said he had fired the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.

Aidan McCansby

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

He said Holden should have appreciated the consequences of his actions from the moment he pulled the trigger.

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Holden is a former Grenadier Guardsman from England whose address is given in court documents as follows: c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.

The case was heard in Diblock format without a jury hearing.

Holden’s supporters gathered outside the court each day the trial was held.

The trial has continued amid ongoing controversy over the government’s plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s turbulent past.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Inheritance and Reconciliation) Bill proposals offer an effective amnesty to those suspected of killings during the conflict, if they agree to cooperate with a new body, known as the Independent Commission on Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir).

The bill also bans future civil cases and investigations of unrest crimes.

The Holden case is one of a series of high-profile trials of veterans prosecuted in Northern Ireland in recent years.

Aidan McAnespie's family and supporters arrive at Belfast's Laganside Courts
Aidan McAnespie’s family and supporters arrive at Belfast’s Laganside Courts

The trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara found that David Holden had aimed a machine gun at Aidan MacAnnisby and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun had not been cocked.

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“This assumption should not have been made,” he told Belfast Crown Court.

He also said the ex-soldier gave a “deliberately false account” of what happened.

The judge said: The question for me is this – how guilty is the accused in the circumstances of this case?

“In my opinion he is criminally guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Judge O’Hara said the weapon, controlled by David Holden, was “lethal in the extreme”.

He told Belfast Crown Court: “It was suggested on his behalf that it was not exceptionally bad or reprehensible to assume that the gun had not been cocked. I fundamentally disagree.

“In my estimation this was the ultimate ‘take no risk’ position because the risk of disaster was too great.

“The defendant should have appreciated at the moment he pulled the trigger that if the gun was fired, fatal consequences might follow.

“This is not something that becomes apparent in hindsight.

“The defendant took an extreme risk without cause in circumstances in which he was neither under pressure nor danger.

“In light of the foregoing, I find the defendant guilty of the gross negligence murder of Aidan McKinsby.”

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