30 March 2022

Soldier ‘pale and shocked’ after ‘accidental discharge’ of bullets

30 March 2022

A soldier who fired shots which led to the death of a man in Northern Ireland during the Troubles appeared pale and in shock in the aftermath, a court has been told.

David Jonathan Holden, 52, is on trial at Belfast Crown Court accused of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988.

He denies the offence.

Mr McAnespie, 23, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a border security checkpoint.

However despite hearing three shots, a witness referred to in court as Lance Sergeant Peters said he did not check to see if they had struck anyone, instead sending Holden for a cup of tea for shock.

Former Grenadier guardsman David Holden leaving Laganside Courts in Belfast on Monday (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr McAnespie was on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association club when he was shot in the back.

He had been spotted by the soldiers at the checkpoint as “a person of interest” whose photograph was on a montage inside the checkpoint.

One of Holden’s commanding officers on the day described hearing the crack and then thump of the machine gun fire before running to the sangar and climbing to the first floor where the shots had been fired.

He told the court he recorded that Mr McAnespie had gone through the check point at around 2.45pm, and around three minutes later he heard the shots.

“I found Holden standing to the left of the gun … his back was to the wall and he was looking at me because he could hear me coming up the stairs. I said, ‘what’s happened?’, and he replied ‘I squeezed the trigger’,” Mr Peters told the court.

“Looking around me I could see three empty cases on the floor … I then unloaded the gun by myself, and I could see he was in shock, and so I sent Holden back down where I could see he probably needed a cup of tea.

“He was of a pale pallor, expressionless, mouth open, you know, somebody who clearly was upset by what had happened.”

The witness said at that point, as far as he understood, there had been a “negligent discharge, nothing more”.

Mr Justice O’Hara queried had he not looked out to see if anyone had been hit by the bullets.

He replied: “No sir, it didn’t occur to me that he had been aiming at somebody”.

The judge continued: “whether he was aiming at somebody or not, that’s another matter, if a gun is negligently discharged and you believed that three bullets had been fired, do you not look out at see if someone has been hit?”

He responded: “It’s something I didn’t do, sir.”

Undated handout file photo of Aidan McAnespie (File/PA) (PA Media)

The court heard the witness contacted the operations room to inform them of an accidental discharge.

Later reports from the public came in that someone had been shot, at which point he said he updated his report of the incident to say someone had been injured, possibly killed.

He said an army major and police attended the scene.

The gun and three empty casings were retrieved for police.

Holden is a former Grenadier guardsman from England, whose address on court documents is given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.

The case is being heard in a Diplock format, without a jury sitting.

It is proceeding at Belfast Crown Court amid the continuing controversy over Government plans to prohibit future Troubles-related prosecutions.

Despite announcing its intent last summer, the Government is yet to table draft legislation in Parliament that would ban future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles incidents predating April 1998.

The Holden case is one of a series of high-profile prosecutions of veterans that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.

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