There has been a welcome for a judge’s ruling that there are sufficient grounds that a former British soldier accused of killing Aidan McAnespie in County Tyrone in 1988 should stand trial.
David Holden’s bid to have the case against him dropped was refused. The ruling means he will now stand trial for the unlawful killing of the prominent 23-year-old nationalist, who was gunned down as he passed a British Army checkpoint on February 21, 1988.
Both Holden and several members of Mr McAnespie’s family attended the hearing remotely, via videolink.
Justice O’Hara rejected a legal application made on behalf of Holden to quash the case and expressed the hope that a trial can take place before Christmas.
Mr McAnespie died after being shot in the back as he made his way to a Gaelic football match, alone and presenting no threat, in February 1988. A frequent target of British harassment, he had just walked past a British Army checkpoint at the border in Aughnacloy when he was shot and killed.
The intimidation Mr McAnespie experienced as he regularly passed through border checkpoints for work had intensified after his sister Eilish decided to run for the Tyrone County Council as a Sinn Féin candidate.
Holden admitted he fired the fatal shot, but claimed his hands were wet and his finger ‘slipped’ off the trigger guard of his machine gun before the shot was fired.
He was initially charged with manslaughter but in September 1988 the charge was quietly dropped. Following an investigation by the Historical Enquires Team in 2016, the case was referred back to prosecutors and a decision was made to prosecute the former soldier on a charge of manslaughter.
It subsequently emerged that Mr McAnespie’s breastbone was removed and retained as part of alleged cover-up. A report by former deputy Garda police commissioner Eugene Crowley, commissioned by the Dublin government in 1988, has also never been released.
This week’s ruling may yet be overturned by an effort currently underway by the British government for a blanket ban on all conflict-related prosecutions, but local Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew welcomed it nonetheless.
“This is a step forward for the family in the campaign for the truth of what happened to Aidan,” she said.
“It also highlights the need for the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanisms to be implemented in full so all families bereaved by the conflict can get access to truth.
“There can be no amnesty for British state forces who murdered Irish citizens.
“The McAnespie family have never faltered in their search for the truth, and I want to commend them for their resilience, commitment, and courage.”
Darragh Mackin, of Phoenix Law, who represents the McAnespie family, said the decision “is a very significant step in the path for justice for Aidan.
“Despite....the proposals advanced by the Secretary of State regarding the past, (this) decision confirms that nobody is above the law,” he said.
“We now look forward to an early trial so that the family can finally have closure.”