After 30 years a former soldier receives a suspended sentence for manslaughter charge

David Jonathan Holden (53), a former Grenadier Guard from England, was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court [02/02/2023]. However, Mr Justice John O’Hara suspended the term for three years. 

Although pleading not guilty to gross negligence manslaughter Holden was convicted in November of last year. 

He was charged with the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988. Holden was 18 years old when the offence was committed. 

Aiden McAnespie (23) was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone. He was on his way to a Gaelic Athletic Association club when he was shot in the back.

Defence solicitor Mr O’Donoghue KC, emphasised the outcomes of similar cases. Arguing that: “Few cases of gross negligence manslaughter involve a defendant who is as young as eighteen years old.” 

In addition, the defence relied on multiple factors relating to Holdens’ personal circumstances. Including how he was discharged from the army due to the trauma suffered as a result of his actions. 

Furthermore, Holden, “reasonably expected that the criminal case against him was over in September 1988 when the original manslaughter case was discontinued.” 

Reference was also made to the health problems both the defendant and his wife suffer from. The defendant is effectively a carer for his wife as her health problems are greater. 

The defence also submitted that Holden has shown remorse for his actions. 

However, Justice O’Hara said: “In his evidence during the trial, the defendant did not take the opportunity to express remorse. He could have done so, even in the context of contesting the case. That would have been helpful.” 

Prosecuting solicitor Mr Murphy KC, agreed with the defence that there were no aggravating features in the case.  Excluding the manner in which Holden contested the charge. 

Justice O’Hara added: “The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and then to the court, to some limited degree that is an aggravating feature.” 

The submission made by the prosecuting counsel highlighted the variation in circumstances surrounding manslaughter cases. Arguing that because of this, previous cases provide limited assistance in relation to sentencing. 

Justice O’Hara therefore felt it was appropriate to reference the Victim Impact Statements given by Aiden McAnespie’s family. 

He tells the court how the statements: “describe the devastating effect which Aidan’s killing had on the whole extended family, how it changed their lives and how hugely challenging it has been over the decades.”

Acknowledging that: “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 which the family shares with far too many families in our society who have not seen anyone held accountable for all manner of killings, bombings and shootings.” 

He said: “When I consider this sentence, I bear in mind everything which is put before me by counsel and by the McAnespie family.” 

Holden received a three year suspended prison sentence due to his otherwise clear criminal record.