Belfast Telegraph

Relief for family of Army shooting victim Aidan McAnespie at chance to 'learn the truth'

Aidan McAnespie
Aidan McAnespie
Brian Gormley

By Gillian Halliday

The family of a young Co Tyrone man killed at an Army checkpoint in 1988 have welcomed a decision to prosecute a former soldier over his death.

Aidan McAnespie (23) was shot as he made his way to the local GAA club in Aughnacloy in February of that year.

The Catholic, who it was claimed at the time had been the target of an ongoing campaign of harassment by soldiers, had just passed through a permanent vehicle checkpoint in the border town when he was struck by one of three shots fired from a machine gun.

In the aftermath Grenadier Guard David Jonathan Holden (18) was charged with Mr McAnespie's manslaughter.

He insisted he had accidentally fired his gun because his fingers were wet.

The prosecution was later dropped and Holden was fined for negligent discharge of his weapon and medically discharged from the Army.

The decision to halt proceedings was made based on the available evidence at the time, according to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

Now the PPS has revealed that following a two-year review into its original decision - undertaken at the request of Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin in 2016 - Holden is to be charged with manslaughter by gross negligence.

The development was hailed as a positive step forward towards achieving "truth and justice" by Mr Anespie's relatives at a Press conference yesterday at the office of KRW Law in Belfast.

The funeral of Aidan McAnespie passes through the checkpoint where he was shot in 1988
The funeral of Aidan McAnespie passes through the checkpoint where he was shot in 1988
(Left to right) Aidan McAnespie’s aunt Margaret, Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre and niece Una McCabe after the British Government expressed deep regret over the death (Niall Carson/PA)

Brian Gormley, Mr Anespie's cousin, spoke on behalf of the family, while Mr Anespie's father John was supported by his daughter Margo and son Vincent, who described his late brother as an "ordinary lad who wanted to go about his ordinary everyday life", as their solicitor Darragh Mackin looked on.

"We are glad that the soldier involved in the shooting of Aidan McAnespie is going to face justice in a court of law where further issues are going to be explored, so we welcome this decision," said Mr Gormley.

Praising Mr McAnespie's late sister Eilis for bringing the case to the attention of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which carried out a review into the shooting a decade ago, Mr Gormley said it was thanks to her efforts as well as those of others that the shooting had not been "consigned to a dustbin".

The HET probe concluded that the version of events given by the soldier was the "least likely" explanation of what happened that day

"All those people played a part in this campaign in making sure that the truth hasn't been covered over," he said. "That the opportunity to (get) the truth about what happened is very much alive and we as a family are very much committed to actually getting to the bottom of what happened that day.

"This is one further step."

Scene at Aughnacloy border where Aidan McAnespie was shot.
Scene at Aughnacloy border where Aidan McAnespie was shot.

The family also reiterated claims that Mr McAnespie had been the victim of ongoing abuse and harassment by members of the security forces in the lead-up to his death, something which his mother Elizabeth, who is now deceased, had tried to prevent. Mr Mackin also dismissed ongoing calls from some MPs that soldiers should be protected from future prosecutions.

"The reality is that statute of limitations for soldiers is legally flawed and morally bankrupt," said the solicitor.

"There can never be an acceptable situation were anybody is above the law."

In a statement the PPS said the decision to prosecute Holden, who is now 48 and understood to be living in England, was taken after all available evidence had been carefully reviewed.

"That evidence includes further expert evidence in relation to the circumstances in which the general purpose machine gun was discharged, thereby resulting in the ricochet shot which killed Mr McAnespie," it explained.

The accused's first court appearance is expected to take place within the next three months.

Belfast Telegraph


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