David Young & Jonathan McCambridge (PA)
A former soldier found guilty of killing a man at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago is to be sentenced next week.
In November, David Jonathan Holden, 53, was convicted of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988.
He was the first veteran to be found guilty of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.
Former Grenadier guardsman Holden, who was released on bail pending sentencing, returned to Belfast Crown Court on Friday for the sentence hearing.
Before hearing the pleas from both sides, the judge told the court that as “there are a number of issues that I have to consider”, he would not pass sentence on Friday.
The sentence will be given next Thursday February 2, the court heard.
Regardless of what sentence is handed down, the veteran will only serve a maximum of two years in jail under the controversial early release provisions of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
Mr McAnespie, 23, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a border security checkpoint.
He was on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association club when he was shot in the back.
Holden had admitted firing the shot which killed Mr McAnespie but had said he had discharged the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.
But trial judge Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.
He found that Holden had pointed a machine gun at McAnespie and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun was not cocked.
Defence barrister Frank O’Donoghue argued that it was “exceptional” for an 18-year-old to be charged and convicted of gross negligence manslaughter in this manner.
He told the court that military practice at the time was to place lethal weapons in remote areas of Northern Ireland which were manned by young, inexperienced soldiers.
“It is right to observe that just as Mr Holden has duties, as found by the court, towards members of the public, so too does the British Army.
“And the British Army has duties towards Mr Holden, and they grossly failed to discharge those duties with the consequences that have occurred.”
Mr Holden’s behaviour “belies a gross immaturity”, he argued, adding that it was accepted this is “a difficult sentencing exercise”.
“This man has led an otherwise unblemished life” and there is evidence of “genuine remorse”, he said.
The court was told that Mr Holden “had a breakdown on the firing range” following the incident and was discharged from the military in 1990.
“He has suffered and continues to suffer from the effects of PTSD,” the defence barrister said.
Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy said that while the events “relate to an event a long time ago, it is relevant to everyone in society”.
He also raised the “profound loss” suffered by the McAnespie family and the “enormous risk” taken by Holden when he was in no danger.
The sentence hearing comes amid ongoing controversy over government plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proposals provide an effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict, if they agree to co-operate with a new body, known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (Icrir).
The Bill would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.
Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden, arrives at Laganside Courts, Belfast, for a sentence hearing for the 1998 Troubles killing of Aidan McAnespie at an army checkpoint. Holden is the first veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.