Ex-British soldier avoids jail for Troubles killing of unarmed Irishman Aidan McAnespie

Ex-British soldier avoids jail for Troubles killing of unarmed Irishman Aidan McAnespie

FORMER British soldier David Jonathan Holden has been given a suspended sentence for killing unarmed Aidan McAnespie during the Troubles period in Northern Ireland.

Last year Holden was convicted of Mr McAnespie’s manslaughter, making him the first soldier to be convicted of a Troubles-era killing since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

Today, at a hearing at Belfast Crown Court, he was sentenced to three years in prison, which the judge went on to suspend for three years.

In November 2022, in the same court, Holden, now aged 53, was found guilty of killing Mr McAnespie, who was shot in Aughnacloy, Co. Tyrone on February 21, 1988 at the age of 23.

He was killed just moments after walking through a border security checkpoint and had been on his way to a local GAA club when he was shot.

Holden, who was 18 at the time, maintained that he fired the weapon by accident as his hands were wet.

During his trial last year, Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He said that Holden, a former Grenardier guardsman from England, should have appreciated from the moment he pulled the trigger the consequences of his actions.

Speaking after today’s sentencing, Aidan’s brother Sean McAnespie said: “The suspended sentence is disappointing, but the most important point is that David Holden was found guilty of the unlawful killing of our brother Aidan.

“We are glad we had our day in court."

He added: “Prior to his killing Aidan suffered extensive harassment from the security forces for over 10 years. Not a day passes when we don’t miss Aidan.”

In a statement, the Amnesty International UK group added: “Finally, justice has been served for Aidan and the McAnespie family. Today is testament to the family’s admirable courage and resilience.

“This case shows that accountability before the law is still possible and must continue. It is vital the UK government shelves its Troubles Bill so other families can also get justice," they added.

“Justice delayed does not need to be justice denied, but that’s what many victims will face if the Government continues with its gross betrayal by closing down all paths to justice.

“The Government’s claim that the bill is about delivering for victims is completely disingenuous.

"Recent proposed amendments pretend to answer people’s concerns but as the overwhelming opposition demonstrates, no one is buying it.

"It is not too late to put victims at the centre of legacy processes and vindicate their rights.”