Former British soldier David Holden convicted of manslaughter of Catholic Aidan McAnespie in 1988 in Northern Ireland | UK News

A former British soldier has been found guilty of shooting dead a Catholic man in Northern Ireland in 1988 during the Troubles.

David Holden becomes the first veteran to be convicted of a historic crime since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Aidan McAnespie was murdered in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, 34 years ago after passing through a border security checkpoint.

The 23-year-old was on his way to a Gaelic football match when he injured his back.

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Holden, who was 18 at the time of his service with the Grenadier Guards, had confessed to firing the shot that killed Mr. MacAnsby, but said he fired the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.

The 53-year-old had denied murder by gross negligence during his non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court.

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

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

“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.

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Aidan McCansby was shot and killed in 1988

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.”

Justice O’Hara told Belfast Crown Court: “It is suggested on his behalf that it was not exceptionally bad or reprehensible for him to assume that the gun was not manufactured. 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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The scene at the Aughnacloy border crossing where Aidan McAnespie was shot and killed.  Pic: Pacemaker press
The scene at the Aughnacloy border crossing where Mr McAnespie is shot and killed. Pic: Pacemaker press

During the trial, Holden asserted that he had previously checked Mr. MacAnnisby’s car registration and identified him as a “person of interest” to the security forces.

In his closing report, Crown Solicitor Ciaran Murphy, QC said: “The only person he was aware of and in whom he had an interest was Aidan McCansby.

“Of all the areas he could have hit by ricocheting or otherwise, he managed to hit the very target of his observation.”

Defense counsel Frank O’Donoghue QC argued that Holden gave a clear account at the time that was “irrefutable and was not a false account”.

He claimed that there was a reasonable possibility that the weapon had been mistakenly left in a ready position by a third party rather than Mr Holden.

To date, six former servicemen have been charged with historic crimes in northern Ireland But the cases against four collapsed and one died during the trial.

Aidan McAnespie's family members have been in court
Aidan McCansby’s family was in court to hear the guilty verdict

Last year, the UK government introduced a bill to tackle the legacy of the Troubles and effectively end the historic prosecution of former British soldiers.

Under the legislation, those who cooperate with investigations led by a new truth-restoring body will be granted immunity from prosecution.

But the legislation, which offers conditional amnesty to both ex-soldiers and ex-terrorists, has been fiercely opposed by all of the victims.

On Wednesday, the government confirmed it would introduce amendments, including a “more robust process” around immunity from prosecution.

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