Liam Holden, who spent 17 years in prison after his wrongful conviction for the killing of a British Army soldier died last Thursday, September 15. He was the last prisoner in the North to face the death penalty.
His death came just months after he launched a civil case at Belfast’s High Court against the British Ministry of Defence for torture and misconduct in public office.
Mr Holden (pictured, left) was tortured by members of the Parachute Regiment and forced into making a confession. Soldiers pinned him to the floor and poured freezing water through a towel place over his face in a method designed to create the sensation of drowning.
He was then hooded and taken to the Glencairn estate, known at the time as an area where loyalist paramilitaries dumped murdered Catholics. A gun was put to his head as the soldiers warned he would be shot if he didn’t confess to killing Private Bell. In his words, he made a “cock and bull” confession.
He was sentenced to hang, and spent four weeks awaiting execution, before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
“He spent the next 17 years in Long Kesh. A lot of people would find this quite daunting but he spoke of this part of his life with great fondness, loved the sense of camaraderie, togetherness, empathy, the sharing of a common cause,” mourners were told. Among them was former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
Friends in the Whiterock Westrock Historical and Cultural Society described Mr Holden as “a perfect example why we must keep fighting for justice”.
Meanwhile, the death of Aidan McAnespie’s father John while awaiting a legal ruling in his son’s case has been described as “deeply poignant”.
His death comes weeks after judgment was reserved in the case against a former British soldier accused of shooting his son dead.
Aidan McAnespie, an unarmed 23-year-old, was killed as he walked through a militarised border security checkpoint in Aughnacloy in 1988 on his way to a Gaelic sports club. The soldier who shot him told Belfast Crown Court in June this year that the gun discharged accidentally.
John McAnespie (pictured, right) was described as “an old school Tyrone man” who fought a “tenacious” campaign on behalf of his son for more than three decades.
Michelle O’Neill, First Minister-designate was among those to pay tributes, describing him as “a gentleman and a daddy that dedicated his life campaigning for truth and justice”.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said she was “deeply saddened to learn that John McAnespie has died”.
She said he was a “stoic, resilient campaigner for justice who was devoted to his family and died not knowing the truth of his son Aiden’s murder”.
Mark Thompson, chief executive of Relatives for Justice, said it was “deeply poignant” that the McAnespies face the outcome of a human rights process without John.
Aidan McAnespie’s late sister Eilish helped found Relatives for Justice but their father was “her touchstone and her adviser”, he said.
Expressing its condolences, the Pat Finucane Centre said: “The PFC sends deepest sympathy to the McAnespie family of Aughnacloy on the death of John who was an unflinching campaigner for justice.”