A former Grenadier Guard was given a three-year suspended sentence for manslaughter at Belfast Crown Court yesterday [02/02/2023].
David James Holden , currently unemployed, pleaded not guilty, however, was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.
Holden, who’s address is given at Chancery House on Victoria Street in Belfast, has become the first veteran to be found guilty of a historical offence since the Good Friday Agreement.
Judge John O’Hara said: “The defendant was 18 years old when he killed Aidan McAnespie in February 1988, almost 35 years ago.”
Aidan McAnespie was accidentally shot near an army checkpoint in County Tyrone, while he was on his way to watch a sports match.
The judge added that: “The defendant has been convicted of manslaughter, not murder. That verdict is based on the fact that he did not intend to kill or cause serious harm.”
The judge highlighted that: “He was however grossly negligent because, wrongly assuming that the gun was not cocked, he aimed it at Mr McAnespie and deliberately pulled the trigger.”
The Judge also said: “The fact that the gun was cocked and ready to fire was the fault of others who had been in the upper part of the sangar before him and those who had not ensured adherence to the safety drill referred to by the prosecution in the opening of the case.”
The judge added that: “The defendant could not know, just from looking at the gun, whether it was cocked but that very fact should have told him not to pull the trigger.”
Holden’s plea, as read out by defence barrister Robert O’Donoghue, gave various mitigating circumstances for his actions.
The defence barrister said that: “The defendant’s actions were preceded by the similarly negligent actions of other soldiers who are not before the court”. He added that: “The army itself is culpable for failing to train and resource its soldiers.”
The defence barrister added that, if sentenced, Holden’s wife will have lost her primary carer, as well as highlighting Holden’s own health conditions. The defence barrister also made arguments surrounding trauma the defendant has personally suffered resulting from the incident.
The defence barrister argued that Holden expected his case to have been dropped in 1988 when the previous manslaughter case was discontinued. Holden also has no other criminal record. The judge mentioned that both prosecuting counsel Ciaran Murphy KC, as well as the defence barrister agreed there were no features to aggravate the case, excluding potentially how Holden contested the charge.
The prosecution counsel also highlighted: “That in gross negligence manslaughter cases defendants are often of previously good character and are being prosecuted for consequences which they never intended or desired. This makes sentencing especially difficult.”
The judge later said: “Mr O’Donoghue submitted that the defendant has shown genuine remorse for his actions. In his evidence during the trial the defendant did not take the opportunity to express remorse.”
The judge said: “It takes no imagination to realise how heart-breaking that was for Mrs McAnespie and how equally heart-breaking it was for her family to observe. Such are the consequences of grossly negligent acts causing death.”
Holden was given a three-year sentence, which will be suspended for three years. The judge said this was due to his clear criminal record and good work record.