A former British soldier on Thursday avoided a prison sentence over the killing of a man at a border checkpoint during the period of violence in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles“. David Holden received a three-year suspended sentence at a Belfast court after being convicted of manslaughter over the 1988 killing of Aidan McAnespie.
The conviction was the first successful prosecution of former UK military personnel for historic offences during the decades-spanning conflict in Northern Ireland. However, further such cases could be blocked under controversial draft legislation unveiled by the UK government in London last year. As the Canary’s Joe Glenton reported:
Titled the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, the proposed law is meant to reduce criminal investigations. It would also replace proper legal processes with reconciliation committees. These would hear stories and grievances but have no legal standing.
Glenton concluded that:
The British state is intent on escaping scrutiny and challenge in relations to its wars. The danger is that its victims, whether in Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan, become victims not once but twice.
Devastating effect of McAnespie’s death
During the sentencing, judge John O’Hara drew attention to the “devastating effect” McAnespie’s death had had on his family. He said:
When I consider the sentence, I bear in mind everything which is put before me by counsel and the McAnespie family.
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The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and then to the court, to some limited degree that is an aggravating feature.
He acknowledged the family’s sense of “injustice”, saying:
I have no doubt this was made worse by the family’s sense of injustice that Mr Holden was not brought to trial at the time.
This is something the family shares with far too many other families in our society who have not seen anyone held to account for all manner of killings, bombings and shootings.
McAnespie was shot in the back and killed in Aughnacloy in County Tyrone on his way to a sports club. Holden, who was 18 years old at the time, admitted the shooting but said his gun had fired by accident because his hands were wet.
The judge retold statements from the family describing how Aidan McAnespie’s mother had, every night, walked past the checkpoint where her son had been killed “in tears saying the rosary”, a Catholic prayer.
Truth and justice
Responding to the decision, Aidan McAnespie’s brother Sean McAnespie said the non-custodial sentence was:
disappointing, but the most important point is that David Holden was found guilty.
Sean McAnespie said his family had not looked for a “pound of flesh”, but rather “truth and justice”. He explained that his brother had faced “extensive harassment” from the security services, and added:
David Holden could have given an honest account of what happened that day but didn’t.
Not a day passes when we don’t miss Aidan.
Featured image via YouTube screenshot/Sky News
Additional reporting by Agence France-PresseSupport us and go ad-free
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