Belfast Telegraph

Family welcome prosecution over man’s killing during Troubles

Aidan McAnespie, 23, was shot by a soldier in Co Tyrone in 1988.

The family of a man shot dead at an Army checkpoint during the Troubles have welcomed the decision to prosecute the soldier who killed him.

Aidan McAnespie was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, in February 1988, moments after walking through a border security checkpoint.

The 23-year-old was on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association club when he was shot in the back.

The English soldier who fired the shot, David Jonathan Holden, insisted it was an accident, claiming his hands were wet and his finger slipped on the trigger of his heavy machine gun.

Mr Holden, who was 18 at the time, was charged with manslaughter in 1988 but the charge was later dropped.

The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has re-examined the case and on Tuesday announced its intention to prosecute the 48-year-old former Grenadier Guardsman for gross negligence manslaughter.

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Aidan McAnespie’s familly (left to right) cousin Brian Gormley, brother Vincent McAnespie, father John McAnespie and sister Margo McAnespie (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr McAnespie’s brother Vincent welcomed the decision and said the family had faced a “brick wall” in their 30-year campaign.

“It’s truth and justice we want to get,” he said.

“He was just an ordinary local lad from the community that just wanted to go about his ordinary everyday life.”

Cousin Brian Gormley said relatives were relieved the circumstances of the case were going to be examined in a court of law.

“The opportunity of actually getting to the truth of what happened in this case is still very much alive and we as a family are committed to pursuing that until we get to the very bottom of what happened that day,” he said.

“This is one further step.”

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin had asked the PPS to re-examine the circumstances of the case following a request by the family for a fresh inquest.

Mr Larkin made the referral after reviewing the findings of a report into the shooting by the police’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

It is understood the decision to prosecute hinged on the findings of a fresh ballistics report commissioned by the PPS.

The UK Government expressed “deep regret” about the killing in 2009.

Mr McAnespie’s relatives have claimed he had been harassed by soldiers as he passed through the checkpoint on previous occasions.

Mr Gormley reflected on the family’s long campaign for justice after the prosecution decision was announced.

“It is a poor reflection on our society that people have to campaign for 30 years to actually get what they are supposed to be obliged to get in the first place,” he said.

He said where evidence existed prosecutions should be taken.

“Unfortunately most of this evidence has been widely available for 30 years, people have chosen not to act on it,” he added. “Thankfully we welcome the decision from the PPS this morning that eventually they are going to act on it.”

He said the legal move would not bring Mr McAnespie back.

“It will not replace Aidan’s life, it will not provide any sort of consolation to the family, but it may give some solace in terms of we are starting to get to the truth of what actually happened,” he said.

The family’s solicitor Darragh Mackin said: “It’s a welcome decision that the PPS are now bringing the decision forward to prosecute.”

A PPS spokeswoman said: “Following careful consideration of all the evidence currently available in the case, and having received advice from senior counsel it has been decided to prosecute a former soldier for the offence of gross negligence manslaughter.

“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 is understood the ex-soldier was informed of the prosecution decision by email on Tuesday morning. Formal papers will be served on his legal representatives in the coming weeks.

The Irish Government conducted its own inquiry into the incident – a probe headed by then Deputy Garda Commissioner Eugene Crowley.

While a Government-approved summary of the report was given to the McAnespie family in 2002, its administration in Dublin has declined to pass the entire document to them.

Irish Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has contended that disclosing the entire content of the Crowley inquiry would be a breach of trust with local community members who gave information.

On Tuesday, Vincent McAnespie reiterated his call for the whole report to be released.

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