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

David Jonathan Holden (53) stood trial at Belfast Crown Court in February 1988 for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie.

McAnespie, 23, died in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, shortly after passing through a border checkpoint.

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

Holden admitted that he fired the shot that killed Mr. killed McAnespie, but said he accidentally fired the gun because his hands were wet.

Family photo of Aidan McAnespie lying on the grass overlooking a beach
Aidan McAnespie

But Judge O’Hara said he was “absolutely convinced” that Holden was guilty of manslaughter.

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

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

The case was tried in diplock format without a jury.

Holden supporters gathered outside the courthouse where the trial took place every day.

The hearing came amid ongoing controversy over the government’s plans to come to terms with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Northern Ireland Issues (Legacy and Reconciliation) legislative proposals provide effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict if they agree to cooperate with a new body known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Reconciliation Information Recovery (Icrir ) is known.

The bill would also bar future civil trials and judicial investigations related to trouble crimes.

The Holden case is part of a series of high-profile prosecutions of veterans charged in Northern Ireland in recent years.

Family members of Aidan McAnespie and their supporters arrive at Laganside Courts in Belfast
Family members of Aidan McAnespie and their supporters arrive at Laganside Courts in Belfast

Judge Mr. Judge O’Hara found that David Holden pointed a machine gun at Aidan McAnespie and pulled the trigger, assuming the gun was not cocked.

He told Belfast Crown Court: “That assumption should not have been made.”

He also said the former soldier “deliberately misrepresented” 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 gun controlled by David Holden was “extremely deadly.”

He told Belfast Crown Court: “It was submitted on his behalf that there was nothing exceptionally bad or objectionable in assuming that the gun was unloaded. I fundamentally disagree.

“In my opinion, it was the ultimate no-risk situation because the risk of catastrophe was so great.

The defendant must have known from the moment he pulled the trigger that there could be fatal consequences if the gun was cocked.

“It is not something that only becomes clear afterwards.

“The accused took a great risk without reason, in circumstances where he was not under pressure and was not in danger.

“In light of the foregoing, I find the defendant guilty of the grossly negligent manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie.”

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