Justice one step closer for Aidan McAnespie

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A former British soldier is to stand trial for the 1988 killing of a Catholic man at a Crown Force checkpoint. Aidan McAnespie, 23, was walking through a border checkpoint on his way to a Gaelic football match when he was struck in the back by gunfire.

He was hit by one of three bullets fired from a machine gun in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone. David Holden, aged 50, had previously been charged with manslaughter, but the charge was dropped in 1990.

The Public Prosecution Service reviewed that decision in 2016 following a request by the Attorney General John Larkin, leading to the current legal proceedings.

Holden appeared at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday and was again charged with manslaughter. A defence application that the defendant could not receive a fair trial due to the delay was also dismissed.

There were about 25 relatives and friends of Aidan McAnespie in court for the hearing, as well as members of human rights groups including Relatives for Justice and The Pat Finucane Centre.

Speaking afterwards, Aidan McAnespie’s brother Vincent welcomed the decision.

“The family is very happy after such a long process of waiting to get to this stage that the judge has strongly come out firmly saying that yes - there is a case to be answered,” he said.

Brian Gormley, the victim’s cousin, added that it had been a “very frustrating process” and paid tribute to Aidan McAnespie’s mother, Lizzie and sister, Eilish, whom he said had fought “tirelessly for the initial stages of this campaign”.

The case was heard over two days in August and November, during which the evidence of several prosecution witnesses was challenged, before Judge Amanda Brady delivered her decision that Holden should stand trial.

Having ruled there is a case to answer, a committal hearing went ahead. Holden was remanded on £500 bail to appear for arraignment in the crown court in Belfast on February 14.

Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew welcomed it as another “step forward” in the campaign for truth about the killing.

“It also highlights the need for the legacy mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House Agreement to be implemented in full so all families bereaved by the conflict can get access to truth,” she said.

“We will continue to stand by the McAnespie family and all those campaigning for truth and justice.”

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