A court in Northern Ireland has found a former British soldier guilty of killing a man at a border checkpoint during the period of sectarian violence in the province known as “The Troubles”.
David Holden, 53, was convicted of manslaughter at Belfast Crown Court over the 1988 killing 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 military personnel for historic offences in Northern Ireland during the Troubles – decades of communal violence in the region over British occupation – since the signing of 1998 peace accords.
Such prosecutions are deeply divisive in Northern Ireland where the legacy of the violent conflict – which first escalated widely in the 1960s – continues to cast a long shadow.
During the trial, judge John O’Hara dismissed Holden’s claims he fired his gun by accident because his hands were wet.
Sentence to follow
The judge, who heard the case rather than a jury, said the former soldier had given a “deliberately false account” of what happened.
“In my judgement he is beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable,” O’Hara added.
He is set to impose a sentence in the new year.
The case against Holden, originally from England but listed as a Belfast resident, is one of a number of high-profile, symbolic prosecutions against British veterans in Northern Ireland in recent years.
The UK government has sought to draw a line under the period through legislation providing an effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict if they agree to co-operate with a new truth recovery body.
The draft law, currently being debated in parliament, would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.
The bill has proven deeply unpopular with the families of victims and drawn criticism from both sides of Northern Ireland’s pro-UK unionist and pro-Ireland nationalist divide, as well as the Irish government in Dublin.
Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s first minister-designate and deputy leader of nationalist party Sinn Fein, tweeted the McAnespie family had been “vindicated in their long campaign for truth”.
She accused the British government of “legislating to stop other families getting justice”.
Darragh Mackin, lawyer for McAnespie’s family, said the verdict would give hope to all victims’ families.
Paul Young, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, said former military personnel would be disappointed by the verdict, adding he expected the conviction would be appealed.