A former soldier has been given a suspended sentence for killing a man at an army checkpoint in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago.
David Jonathan Holden (53) was sentenced to three years at Belfast Crown Court, but Mr Justice O’Hara suspended the term for three years.
Holden was convicted last year of the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988, the first veteran to be convicted of a historical offence in Northern Ireland since the peace agreement.
Mr McAnespie (23), was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, moments after walking through a border security checkpoint.
He was on his way to a GAA club when he was shot in the back.
The McAnespie family said they were disappointed with the sentence, but stressed they did not want a “pound of flesh”.
Holden had admitted firing the shot that killed Mr McAnespie, but said it was an accident caused by his hands being wet.
Mr Justice O’Hara said last year he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.
In court yesterday, the judge highlighted five points about the case.
He said Holden was 18 when the killing happened; he had been convicted of manslaughter and did not intend to kill; he was grossly negligent in wrongly assuming the gun was not cocked; the fact the gun was cocked and ready to fire was the fault of others; and he could not have known from looking at the gun if it was cocked.
Mr Justice O’Hara said: “In his evidence during the trial, the defendant did not take the opportunity to express remorse.
“He could have done so, even in the context contesting the case. That would have been helpful.
“The defendant gave a dishonest explanation to the police and then to the court, to some limited degree that is an aggravating feature.”
The judge drew attention to victim impact statements given by Mr McAnespie’s family to the court.
He said: “Aidan was the youngest of the six McAnespie children. The statements described the devastating impact the killings had on the whole extended family, how it changed their lives and how hugely challenging it has been over decades.
“I have no doubt this was made worse by the family’s sense of injustice that Mr Holden was not brought to trial at the time.”
Holden is a former Guardsman from England, whose address in court documents was given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.
Supporters of Holden gathered outside the court each day the trial sat.
Members of Mr McAnespie’s family were in court for the sentencing hearing.
His brother, Sean McAnespie, said: “The most important point is that David Holden was found guilty of the unlawful killing of our brother, Aidan.
“We are glad we had our day in court. David Holden could have given an honest account of what happened that day, but didn’t.
“The judge was clear he had given a deliberately false version of events. Not a day passes when we don’t miss Aidan.”
A representative of a veterans’ organisation described the sentence handed down to Holden as “extremely harsh”.