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Rule of LawUnited Kingdom

Ex-British soldier convicted of Troubles-era killing

November 25, 2022

A British army veteran became the first to be convicted of killing a civilian during the Troubles era, a term used to describe the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between the late 1960s until 1998.

David Holden
Former Grenadier Guardsman David Holden arrives at Laganside Courts in Belfast earlier this yearImage: Liam McBurney/empics/picture alliance

A former British soldier who shot a man during sectarian violence of the Troubles era was convicted of manslaughter on Friday.

The Belfast crown court found David Holden, 53, guilty of killing Aidan McAnespie, who was 23 years old at the time of his death in 1988. Holden was 18 at the time of the shooting.

McAnespie was shot in the back while crossing a checkpoint between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Holden becomes the first British soldier to be convicted of an offense in Northern Ireland stemming from the conflict during the Troubles era.

The decades of sectarian violence, known as the Troubles, in Northern Ireland lasted from the late 1960s until the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998.

A key part of the agreement that brought peace between former enemies was softening the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which was militarized during the sectarian violence.

What did the court say?

During the trial, Holden said he accidentally fired from the gun.

Judge John O'Hara, sitting without a jury, dismissed Holden's claims, saying the former soldier had given a "deliberately false account" of what happened at the time.

O'Hara said that in his judgement, Holden was "beyond any reasonable doubt criminally culpable."

Holden will be sentenced at another hearing in the new year.

The case against Holden, originally from England but listed as a Belfast resident, is one of a number of high-profile, symbolic prosecutions against British army veterans in Northern Ireland in recent years.

UK pushes for conditional amnesty 

The UK government has also sought to push ahead with a bill that offers conditional amnesty to those accused of killings and other crimes related to the Troubles era. Critics say the bill is an attempt to shield former military personnel from justice.

The draft law, that is currently being debated in parliament, would also prohibit future civil cases and other crimes related to the Troubles.

The bill has proven deeply unpopular with the families of victims and drawn criticism from both sides of Northern Ireland's pro-UK unionist and pro-Ireland nationalist divide, as well as the Irish government in Dublin.

rm/ar (AFP, dpa)