A former British soldier found guilty of killing Aidan McAnespie during The Troubles in Northern Ireland has escaped a jail sentence.
David Holden (53), who was convicted of manslaughter, was given a three-year suspended sentence on Thursday.
He was the first veteran to be convicted of a historical offence since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.
Aidan McAnespie, a Catholic man, was killed in Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone in 1988 after walking through a border security checkpoint.
The 23-year-old had been on his way to a GAA match when he was shot in the back.
Ex soldier David Holden has been given a 3 year suspended sentence for manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in 1988. The family have made clear that nothing today changes the fact that David Holden was found guilty. Not a day passes when Aidan is not missed. pic.twitter.com/ENTPp0DtVS
— Grainne Teggart (@GTeggart) February 2, 2023
Holden, who was 18 at the time, denied the charge of gross negligent manslaughter during his non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court last year.
But the trial judge said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty.
Holden admitted firing the shot which killed Mr McAnespie, but said he discharged the weapon by accident because his hands were wet.
Judge John O'Hara said Holden had pointed a machine gun at Mr McAnespie and pulled the trigger, while assuming the gun was not cocked.
He told Belfast Crown Court: "That assumption should not have been made."
He also said the former soldier had given a "deliberately false account" of what happened.
During the trial, Holden confirmed he had previously checked Mr McAnespie's car registration and identified him as a "person of interest" to the security forces - a fact underlined by the prosecution.
In his closing submission, Counsel Ciaran Murphy said: "The one person he was aware of and in whom he had an interest was Aidan McAnespie.
"Of all the areas he could have struck with a ricochet or otherwise, he managed to strike the very target of his surveillance."
To date, six former soldiers have been charged with historical offences in Northern Ireland - but cases against four collapsed and one died while on trial.
David Holden has received a three year suspended sentence for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie.
This case shows that accountability before the law is still possible. It is vital the UK government shelves its Troubles Bill so other families can also get justice. https://t.co/WarC5KUmiE
— Amnesty Ireland (@AmnestyIreland) February 2, 2023
Gráinne Teggart is Amnesty International's Deputy Director in Northern Ireland.
She said the British government must shelve its so-called Troubles Bill, which would grant immunity to soldiers going forward.
"This case shows that accountability before the law is still possible and must continue," she said.
"It is vital the UK government shelves its Troubles Bill so other families can also get justice.
"Justice delayed does not need to be justice denied, but that’s what many victims will face if the government continues with its gross betrayal by closing down all paths to justice."
"The government's claim that the bill is about delivering for victims is completely disingenuous.
"Recent proposed amendments pretend to answer people’s concerns but as the overwhelming opposition demonstrates, no one is buying it.
"It is not too late to put victims at the centre of legacy processes and vindicate their rights," she added.
'Not a day passes we don’t miss Aidan'
Aidan's brother Seán said they wanted their day in court.
“The most important point is that David Holden was found guilty of the unlawful killing of our brother Aidan," he said.
"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.
“Prior to his killing Aidan suffered extensive harassment from the security forces for over 10 years.
"Not a day passes when we don’t miss Aidan," he added.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill returned to the UK House of Lords on January 31st for further deliberation.
If passed, Amnesty said the bill will introduce a "de facto amnesty for serious crimes committed during the Northern Ireland conflict, permanently denying other victims and their families justice."
The bill has been rejected by victims and victims’ rights groups, Amnesty, the Irish Government and Northern Ireland political parties.
It has also prompted serious concern from the US Congress, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs and the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights.
Additional reporting by: IRN