‘Regret’ over checkpoint murder
‘Regret’ over checkpoint murder

The British government has expressed “deep regret” over the fatal shooting of a Tyrone man 21 years ago, but declined to formally apologise.

Aidan McAnespie was killed after three shots were fired from a British Army watchtower as he walked to Aughnacloy’s sports grounds for a Gaelic football match in February 1988.

The 24-year-old died immediately after being shot in the back, some 300 yards from the checkpoint.

Mr McAnespie was repeatedly victimised by British troops at the checkpoint. The day before the shooting Mr McAnespie and his mother had reported being threatened at the checkpoint.

The soldier involved in the incident claimed the shooting was an accident caused in part by his having wet hands. A recent investigation carried out by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team said the soldier’s version of events was “considered to be the least likely” of possible explanations.

Following a meeting with the family at Hillsborough last week, British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward considered the HET report and issued a statement in conjunction with the British defence secretary.

“On behalf of the British government, the Northern Ireland secretary and the defence secretary recognise the pain and suffering of the McAnespie family. It is a matter of deep regret that Aidan was killed by a bullet fired by a soldier which ricocheted from the road.”

He continued: “It is not for the government either to accept or comment on specific HET findings. However, in overall terms, the government endorses its work and has confidence in the HET’s professionalism and thoroughness.

“Since part of the objectives of the Het is to bring solace and comfort to families and loved ones, we hope this will be the case for Aidan’s family.”

Una McCabe, a niece of Mr McAnespie, said the latest move was an “acknowledgment at official level that was missing.”

She expressed sadness that her mother, Elish, a sister of the victim, who had campaigned for the truth since 1988, had not lived to witness the British government statement.

Ms McCabe said there was no prospect of a successful prosecution in the case and insisted that the family simply wanted the truth. She said the statement brought closure to the case insofar as the British government was concerned.

However, she added that the Dublin government should at least allow the family sight of the Crowley report into the killing carried out by a former senior Garda officer and completed the year after the killing. The government has made a variety of excuses not to release the report.

The Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, which has helped the family in the case, along with Fianna Fail senator Mary White, the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Commission for Victims and Survivors, have welcomed publication of the British government statement.

Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew said the British government needed “to reflect long and hard about this case”.

“It is a disgrace that it has taken 20 years of campaigning to get the British government to this point.

“For years they stuck to and hid behind lies.

“Unfortunately this has been the approach adopted by the British to the issues of the past and in particular killings carried out by their forces or their surrogates in the unionist paramilitaries.

“This policy of concealment and cover-up has to end.”

However DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds insisted the British army had nothing to apologise for.

Guardsman David Holden, who fired the fatal shots, was initially charged with manslaughter but the charges were later dropped.

He was later fined for negligent discharge of a weapon and given an honourable medical discharge.

The McAnespie family said they were not seeking a prosecution.

“With truth and acknowledgement from Shaun Woodward and the MoD, we are certainly a lot closer to closure and being able to deal with Aidan’s murder,” Ms McCabe added.

“I don’t want people thinking we’ve let someone get away with murder, but we weren’t going to get prosecutions. This we aimed for, and we got it.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News