British soldier convicted of Troubles killing avoids jail

Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden
Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden

The first British soldier to be convicted of a Troubles killing since the Good Friday Agreement has avoided a jail sentence.

David Holden, 53, was found guilty last year of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie, 23, at a cross-border checkpoint in Northern Ireland in February 1988.

The former Grenadier Guardsman claimed he had accidentally shot Mr McAnespie dead after his wet hands led to his finger slipping on the trigger. He was just 18 at the time.

More than three decades after the shooting, Holden faced a non-jury trial at Laganside Crown Court in Belfast and was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter.

It is expected to be one of the final - if not the final - criminal cases before the Government bans Troubles-related prosecutions of veterans.

Passing sentence on Thursday, Mr Justice O'Hara told Holden he would not be imposing a prison term because he had an entirely clean criminal record in the decades since the shooting.

Suspended sentence

He continued: “It is perhaps ironic that the delay in bringing this to trial has left Mr Holden in a better position than if the trial had taken place in 1988 and 1989.”

The judge sentenced Holden to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for three years.

Mr McAnespie was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a security checkpoint on his way to a Gaelic football match.

Holden had been manning a nearby mounted machine gun when it fired three bullets, one of which ricocheted off the pavement and hit Mr McAnespie in the back, wounding him fatally.

The guardsman told police his hands had been wet after washing some walls around 10 minutes earlier, causing his finger to slip on the trigger and unleash a short burst of fire.

An expert who analysed the pattern of ricochet marks on the roads said it indicated “an inadvertent discharge of the firearm”, the trial heard.

The court found that Holden had pointed a machine gun at Mr McAnespie and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun was not cocked.