A former British soldier has been found guilty of killing 23-year-old Aidan McAnespie at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland nearly 35 years ago.
avid Jonathan Holden (53), who had been on trial at Belfast Crown Court accused of the manslaughter of Mr McAnespie in February 1988, is the first British army veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr McAnespie, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a Border security checkpoint. He was on his way to a local GAA club when he was shot in the back.
Holden had admitted firing the shot that killed Mr McAnespie but said he fired the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.
But trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.
He found that Holden had pointed a machine gun at Mr McAnespie and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun was not cocked.
He said: “That assumption should not have been made.”
He also said the former soldier had given a “deliberately false account” of what happened.
Giving his verdict, the judge said: “The question for me is this – just how culpable is the defendant in the circumstances of this case?
“In my judgment he is beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable.”
The judge said the weapon controlled by Holden was “lethal in the extreme”.
He added: “It is suggested on his behalf that it was not exceptionally bad or reprehensible for him to assume that the weapon was not cocked. I fundamentally disagree.
“In my judgment this was the ultimate ‘take no chances’ situation because the risk of disaster was so great.
“The defendant should have appreciated at the moment he pulled the trigger that if the gun was cocked, deadly consequences might follow.
“That is not something which is only apparent with hindsight.”
“The defendant took an enormous risk for no reason in circumstances where he was under no pressure and in no danger,” he said.
“In light of the foregoing, I find the defendant to be guilty of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie by gross negligence.”
Holden is a former member of the Grenadier Guards from England, whose address in court documents was given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.
The case was heard in the format of a Diplock court without a jury sitting.
Supporters of Holden gathered outside the court each day the trial sat.
The trial proceeded amid continuing controversy over British government plans to deal with offences committed during the Troubles.
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 (ICRIR).
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 British army veterans that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.