The Belfast Crown Court finds David Holden guilty of manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie at a border checkpoint in 1988.

A court in Northern Ireland has found a former British soldier guilty of killing a man at a border checkpoint during the province’s period of sectarian violence known as “The Troubles”.

David Holden, 53, was convicted of manslaughter by the Belfast Crown Court for the 1988 murder of Aidan McAnespie, 23, who was shot in the back as he crossed the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Friday’s conviction is the first of former British servicemen for historic crimes committed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles – decades of communal violence in the region due to the British occupation – since the signing of the 1998 peace accords.

Such persecutions are deeply divisive in Northern Ireland, where the legacy of the violent conflict – which first escalated on a large scale in the 1960s – continues to cast a long shadow.

At trial, Judge John O’Hara rejected Holden’s claims that he accidentally fired his gun because his hands were wet.

Willing to follow

The judge, hearing the case rather than a jury, said the former soldier had given a “deliberately false account” of what had happened.

“In my judgment he is criminally guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” O’Hara added.

In the new year, he imposes a punishment.

The case against Holden, who is originally from England but listed as a resident of Belfast, is one of the high-profile, symbolic prosecutions of British veterans in Northern Ireland in recent years.

The UK government has sought to draw a line under the period through legislation offering effective amnesty to those suspected of killings during the conflict if they agree to cooperate with a new truth-finding body.

The bill, currently under debate in parliament, would also ban future civil cases and judicial inquiries related to Troubles crimes.

The bill has proved deeply unpopular with the families of the victims, drawing criticism from both sides of Northern Ireland’s pro-British unionist and pro-Irish nationalist divisions, as well as the Irish government in Dublin.

‘Justified’

Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s first ministerial candidate and deputy leader of the Sinn Fein nationalist party, tweeted that the McAnespie family were “justified in their long campaign for the truth”.

She accused the British government of “making laws to prevent other families from getting justice”.

Darragh Mackin, attorney for McAnespie’s family, said the verdict would bring hope to the families of all the victims.

Paul Young, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, said former military personnel would be disappointed by the verdict, adding that he expected the conviction to be appealed.



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