Sentencing of ex-soldier for Aidan McAnespie killing adjourned until next week

David Jonathan Holden (53) was found guilty of manslaughter in the first conviction of its type since the Belfast Agreement

The sentencing of a former soldier found guilty of killing Aidan McAnespie at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago has been adjourned until next week.

In November, David Jonathan Holden (53) was convicted of the manslaughter of Mr McAnespie in February 1988.

He was the first veteran soldier to be found guilty of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Belfast Agreement.

Former grenadier guardsman Holden, who was released on bail pending sentencing, was due to return to Belfast Crown Court on Friday for sentencing. However, this will now take place next Thursday.


Prior to the adjournment, Holden’s defence barrister made a plea for a suspended sentence in what he called a “unique” case, arguing that it would be “unjust and unfair” to impose an immediate custodial sentence.

Before hearing the pleas from both sides on Friday morning, the judge told the court “there are a number of issues that I have to consider”.

Regardless of what sentence is handed down, Holden will serve a maximum of only two years in jail under the controversial early release provisions of the 1998 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 local GAA club when he was shot in the back.

Holden had admitted firing the shot which killed Mr McAnespie but had said he had discharged 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.

Delivering judgment in the non-jury trial, the judge said: “That assumption should not have been made.”

He also said 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 judgment he is beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable.”

Speaking outside Laganside court in Belfast on Friday following the adjournment, the brother of Aidan McAnespie said they found the morning’s proceedings difficult.

“After nearly 35 years, it is clear the only remorse David Holden has is for himself. What about the impact on our family and the loss of our brother, son and best friend?”

The sentence hearing comes amid ongoing controversy over British 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 (Icrir).

The Bill would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s deputy director in Northern Ireland, accompanied the McAnespie family to court on Friday.

She said: “The significance of this case is clear both for the McAnespies and particularly at a time when the UK government continues to push through the overwhelmingly opposed Troubles Bill which cruelly betrays the many victims still seeking justice while protecting the perpetrators of manslaughter, murder, torture and other serious crimes.” - Additional reporting PA

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times