Ex soldier given suspended sentence for Troubles killing of Aidan McAnespie

David Jonathan Holden, 53, was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court, but judge Mr Justice O’Hara suspended the term for three years.

Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden (Brian Lawless/PA)© Brian Lawless

Jonathan McCambridge, PAPA Media

A former soldier has been given a suspended sentence for killing a man at an Army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago.

David Jonathan Holden, 53, was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court, but judge Mr Justice O’Hara suspended the term for three years.

Holden was convicted last year at Belfast Crown Court of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988, the first veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the peace agreement.

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

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

Holden had admitted firing the shot which killed Mr McAnespie, but had said he had fired the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.

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

In court on Thursday, the judge said: “In his evidence during the trial, the defendant did not take the opportunity to express remorse. He could have done so, even in the context contesting the case.

“That would have been helpful.”

The judge added: “The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and then to the court, to some limited degree that is an aggravating feature.”

The judge drew attention to victim impact statements from Mr McAnespie’s family which detailed the “devastating effect” of his death.

Aidan McAnespie was shot in 1988 (Family handout/PA)© PA

He said: “When I consider the sentence I bear in mind everything which is put before me by counsel and the McAnespie family.”

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

The case was heard in a Diplock format without a jury sitting.

Supporters of Holden gathered outside the court each day the trial sat.

Members of Mr McAnespie’s family were in court for the sentencing hearing.

The trial proceeded amid continuing controversy over Government plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

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.

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 veterans that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.

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