British soldier convicted for checkpoint shooting of Aiden McAnespie in Northern Ireland

On Febuary 21st 1988 Grenadier British soldier David Jonathan Holden shot dead unarmed 23 year old Aidan McAnespie with a machine gun while he crossed a checkpoint in Northern Ireland.

David then lied to his superiors about the shooting and it was only last year he 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.

He said that after the weapon had discharged three rounds, he did not know if anyone had been struck and he could no longer see Mr McAnespie as he had gone round a bend into a “blindspot” on the road.


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 Grenadier guardsman from England, should have appreciated from the moment he pulled the trigger the consequences of his actions.

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

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

He also said that the former soldier had given a “deliberately false account” of what happened.

The judge said: “The question for me is this – just how culpable is the defendant in the circumstances of this case?

“In my judgement he is beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable.”


Mr Justice O’Hara said the weapon controlled by David Holden was “lethal in the extreme”.

He told Belfast Crown Court: “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 judgement this was the ultimate ‘take no chances’ situation because the risk of disaster was so great.

“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.”

Defence counsel Frank O’Donoghue KC said Mr Holden’s “culpability and gross negligence” was preceded by “actions and omissions of others which were grossly negligent and which materially contributed to what occurred”.

He added that “procedures deemed essential that did not take place is to the shame of those who were in charge of those working procedures”.

“There was failure by the British Army to properly resource the sangar. The installation of sangars in border areas, the arming of those sangars on pintels with GMPGs (general purpose machine guns) in border areas was a practice which was widespread.


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.”

Troubles bill

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 cooperate 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 crimes committed during the Troubles.

Speaking outside court, Paul Young, national spokesman for the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, said veterans will be “deeply disappointed by this verdict”, adding that he understood Holden would appeal.

“I understand that the family are going to feel completely different to us veterans, and they will have their time to say what they say.

“But for us, the witch hunt continues, that’s why we support this legacy bill that is going through parliament right now which will stop any further prosecutions of veterans that have been previously investigated.

“The terrorists have effectively got an amnesty … with letters of comfort, royal pardons.

“This witch hunt continues but that’s why we’re hopeful that the bill will get passed into law next year.”

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