first conviction of a British veteran during the “Troubles”

A crowd attends the funeral of the three boys killed in the Omagh bomb blast, at St Mary's Church in Buncrana, Northern Ireland, August 19, 1998.

For the first time since the signing of the Good Friday peace treaty on April 10, 1998, a British army veteran has been convicted of manslaughter committed during the “Troubles”, the thirty-year civil war between Northern Ireland Nationalist Catholics, mostly in favor of the reunification of Ireland, to Unionist Protestants, mostly supporters of remaining in the United Kingdom.

David Holden, 53, was sentenced Thursday, February 2, to a three-year suspended prison sentence for the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie, 23, killed on February 21, 1988, at a checkpoint in the northern Irish county of Tyrone. The young man, suspected by British security services of being a member of the Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA) paramilitary group, was unarmed and was passing through the village of Aughnacloy, near the border with the Republic of Ireland , to go to a Gaelic football match.

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During his trial, Mr Holden pleaded the accident, claiming that his hands were wet and that the bullets had been fired unintentionally. Aged 18 at the time, he was serving in the Grenadier Guards, an infantry regiment of the British Royal Guard, and was on his first day on duty. The judge, however, found that the accused gave a “deliberately false version” and “completely unconvincing” facts. Surrounded by other members of the McAnespie family, which has been fighting for years for justice, Sean McAnespie, his brother, regretted on Thursday that Mr. Holden had “no pronounced regrets”. “We didn’t want living flesh today, we just wanted justice and truth”he added.

“Sadness” and “anger”

The relatives of the victim do not express “no triumphalism at the announcement of the verdict, but sadness and anger that it took thirty-five years to obtain a court decision”, reacted the Pat Finucane Centre, a Northern Irish family support association, demanding justice for the tragedies that occurred during the “Troubles”. The peace treaty has certainly succeeded in gradually stopping the cycle of inter-community violence, but it has not been accompanied by a reconciliation agreement. The IRA agreed to surrender its weapons and all the prisoners, loyalist side as well as republican side, were released from prison after two years, in 2000.

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From 2006, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the new Northern Irish police, no longer made up solely of Protestants, has set up an investigation unit devoted to crimes perpetrated during the war. But, faced with the influx of requests, it lacks resources, and its impartiality has been questioned. On the Catholic side as well as on the Protestant side, the families of the victims of the conflict (nearly 3,700 killed, 40,000 injured) have the greatest difficulty in obtaining the opening of trials concerning their missing relatives. The number of these is extremely limited.

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