Aidan’s family say they now have “justice” but still don’t know the “truth” about what the soldier was thinking when he fired his gun
Former soldier David Holden was convicted on Friday at Belfast Crown Court of the manslaughter of the 23-year-old from Aughnacloy in 1988, making him the first veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.
Despite his conviction, Aidan’s campaigning family say they now have “justice” but still don’t know the “truth” about what the soldier was thinking when he fired his gun.
Aidan was shot in the back as he went through a checkpoint in the Co Tyrone town on his way to watch a local GAA match.
Holden, whose address in court documents was given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast, had admitted firing the shot which killed Aidan but had said he had fired the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.
On Friday the 53-year-old former Grenadier guardsman was exposed as a liar after Mr Justice O’Hara declared had given a “deliberately false account” of what happened.
And speaking to the Sunday World outside court, Aidan’s brother Sean and sister Margo called on Holden to admit what really happened.
Standing arm in arm with his sister, Sean said: “We always believed the stories that the Brits and Holden was putting out all them years was lies and the judge today viewed them as lies as well.
“The community of Aughnacloy knew the truth and now it’s out today that it was all lies.
“All we were looking for was the truth. When we first met the ombudsman, my dad pointed the finger and said ‘all we want is the truth’.
“We got justice today but we are waiting for Mr Holden to come out with the truth. He needs to finally tell the truth about what he did that day.
“We want to know what he was thinking and why he shot Aidan. Tell us the truth.”
Sean says while they are delighted to have finally got justice after 34 years, it was still a sad day.
“People will say it’s a victory but it’s a sad day because Aidan’s not here, his mother’s not here his sister Eilish is not here, who fought the case for so long, they are not here and neither is my dad here to see this day,” he said.
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 McAnespie and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun was not cocked.
He said: “That assumption should not have been made.”
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.
“In light of the foregoing I find the defendant guilty of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie by gross negligence.”
Sean McAnespie says he can remember the day Aidan was shot in 1988 very clearly despite the passage of more than three decades.
“It was 34 years ago but I can remember it like yesterday, it never goes away. Everybody knows where they were and what they were doing at that minute in time,” he said.
“We were after burying my aunt’s husband that morning and we were all out in the burial house for dinner – it being an Irish wake I was looking for someone to go for a few drinks with me.
“I happened to ask Aidan, ‘Are you going for a drink’ and he hopped up and said, ‘I’ve cattle to feed’ and he was laughing and he got up and run to the car and went home and fed the cattle.
“I went up home to Monaghan and a mate of mine that plays with Aghaloo (GAA team), an old school mate, he landed up to the house, my wife was taking the mick out of me - that I’d nobody to go for a drink with and Sean Mone landed and I said, ‘here’s a man that’ll go for a drink with me and he came to the door and said, ‘Aidan’s shot dead’.
“And from that moment my life was never the same again.”
“I was the oldest in the family and Aidan was the youngest so I wouldn’t have really known Aidan and it was just the last couple of years (before he was killed) that I’d started to get to know him.”
He says Aidan was a caring son and continued to cross the border despite being threatened regularly.
“I was married and living in a house in Monaghan, Aidan was working in Monaghan and I had a spare bedroom and I said, ‘Aidan come and stay here’. He was getting all that hassle (from the army) but he turned to me and said, ‘Who’s going to stay with Da and Ma, who’s going to stay with them?’
Aidan’s sister Margo says, “Aidan was always going back and forward to look after them, he wouldn’t leave them. The rest of us all left and moved to across the border because we couldn’t put up with all the hassle (at the checkpoints).
“The hassle we got was shocking. But despite that, Aidan stayed because he wanted to keep an eye on our parents. That’s what he was like, always thinking of his family before himself.”
And Sean says it was only after he had been killed that he realised just how little he knew about his little brother.
“I got a job in Monaghan poultry where Aidan worked and there was a co-worker that started the same day as Aidan,” he said. “This was after Aidan had been killed and myself and this co-worker, John, where doing the dirty job, cleaning the place out.
“Messing about I put the hose on him and blasted his back. Next thing he bent over and started to cry and I says, ‘Jeez John I didn’t mean it’, and he turned to me and said, It’s not that Sean, it’s just the last man to do that to me was your Aidan’.
“After he was shot strangers were telling me all this stuff about Aidan and I realised I didn’t know him.”
David Holden is set to be sentenced in the New Year.