Former soldier found guilty of Aidan McAnespie’s manslaughter is sentenced

On the 2nd of February 2023 a former soldier was served a three-year sentence, suspended for three-years for killing Aidan McAnespie 35 years ago.

David Jonathon Holden (53) was sentenced at Belfast Crown Court after being found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. 

Holden pleaded not guilty during his Diplock-style, non-jury trial last year.

Aidan McAnespie was killed on the 21st of February 1988 in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone. 

McAnespie was fatally shot as he passed through a border checkpoint on route to a GAA club.

Passing sentence, Sir John O’Hara highlighted some findings which led to the guilty conviction: “The defendant was 18 years old when he killed Aidan McAnespie in February 1988, almost 35 years ago.

“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.

“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 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.

“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.”

The defence solicitor, Mr O’Donoghue KC said: “The defendant’s actions were preceded by the similarly negligent actions of other soldiers who are not before the court.

“The army itself is culpable for failing to train and resource its soldiers.

“Few cases of gross negligence manslaughter involve a defendant who is as young as 18 years old and as inexperienced as this defendant was.

“This defendant should be differentiated from offenders such as doctors who are typically highly trained and skilled and are typically much older.”

However, the judge said in the trial Holden: “did not take the opportunity to express remorse.”

Mr Justice O’Hara stated that an aggravating feature of this case was that: “The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and to the court”.

At last week’s plea hearing, prosecuting counsel Ciaran Murphy KC said there were numerous victim impact statements from members of Mr McAnespie’s family.

Referring to those the judge said: “His father died recently, during the course of these proceedings. 

“His mother died some years earlier and his sister Eilish, who had been very prominent in a campaign to “see justice done” for Aidan, herself died relatively young.

“The statements describe the devastating effect which Aidan’s killing had on the whole extended family”.

Mr Justice O’Hara said he passed the three-year suspended sentence due to Holden’s clear criminal record and positive work record. Because of this present conviction, Holden lost his employment.

The judge said: “I must explain to the defendant that if he commits another offence within the next three years which is punishable by imprisonment, a court may order that he serves the three-year sentence for the killing of Mr McAnespie”.

Author profile

Holly Fleck is an Ulster University Journalism Graduate and current Journalism MA student at Ulster University. She has a passion for Health and Business reporting. Holly has previously hosted UUSU's The Student Show podcast, Ulster University events as well as contributing content to QR's The Scoop and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary.