A former British soldier has been found guilty of the manslaughter of a man who was shot dead as he walked through a checkpoint on the Tyrone-Monaghan border on his way to a GAA match in February 1988.

David Holden, 52, a former member of the Grenadier Guards, had admitted firing the shot that killed Aidan McAnespie, but claimed it was accidental.

The 23-year-old died after one of three high calibre bullets fired from a heavy machine gun at a permanent British army checkpoint in the village of Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone ricocheted off the road and hit him in the back.

David Holden, who was an 18-year-old soldier with the Grenadier Guards at the time, admitted firing the shot, but said his finger slipped on the trigger because his hands had been wet from cleaning duties.

The trial judge dismissed that claim.

Family members of Aidan McAnespie and their supporters arrive at Laganside Courts in Belfast
Family members of Aidan McAnespie and their supporters arrive at Laganside Courts in Belfast

Trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara said Holden had given a deliberately false account of what happened and that he was criminally culpable.

He said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Holden was guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Holden should have appreciated from the moment he pulled the trigger the consequences of his actions, he said.

Members of Mr McAnespie's family hugged and some cried as the verdict was announced.

Outside court, Aidan McAnespie's brother Sean became emotional as he recalled family members who had not lived to hear the judgment.

"We waited 34 years, we never thought we would have got it," he said.

"I'm thinking of my father and my mother that prayed and prayed for this day, and they're not here to see it.

"As a family we're very relieved and happy. We've such a big family, cousins, community and relations to help us through this, it took the whole lot to get us over the line."

Brian Gormley, a cousin of Mr McAnespie, welcomed the ruling and said today was a day of "mixed emotions" for the family.

"We're thinking primarily of Aidan, of Eilish (his sister) who, for the first 20 years of the campaign led the charge - and probably at the cost of her own health - we think of Lizzie (his mother) and John (his father)," he said.

"Some people will wonder why do families persist for 34 years following cases this old. Well it's very clear: John - Aidan's father - the day that the PPS announced that David Holden was going to be prosecuted, said the only demand he had is that he hears the truth, because as a family we did not believe the version of events that David Holden or the British government put out at the time of Aidan's shooting.

"I think we have been corroborated in terms of Justice O'Hara's ruling today."

Darragh Mackin, lawyer for the family of Aidan McAnespie, welcomed the verdict and said it would give hope to all victims' families.

David Holden arriving at court in Belfast earlier this year

Holden is a former Grenadier guardsman from England, whose address in court documents was given as c/o Chancery House, Victoria Street, Belfast.

The case was heard in a Diplock format without a jury sitting.

Supporters for Holden gathered outside the court each day the trial sat.

The trial proceeded amid continuing controversy over British government plans to deal with the Troubles.

Speaking outside court, Paul Young, national spokesman for the Northern Ireland Veterans Movement, said he was saddened by the verdict.

"Veterans will be deeply disappointed by this verdict, I'm saddened by it, but it's not over for David yet because his team, as far as I'm aware, are going to appeal the decision, and I think eventually, if necessary, go to the Supreme Court," he said.

"I understand that the family are going to feel completely different to us veterans, and they will have their time to say what they say.

"But for us the witch-hunt continues, that's why we support this legacy bill that is going through parliament right now which will stop any further prosecutions of veterans that have been previously investigated.

"The terrorists have effectively got an amnesty ... with letters of comfort, royal pardons."

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill proposals provide an effective amnesty for those suspected of killings during the conflict, if they agree to co-operate with a new body, known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

The bill would also prohibit future civil cases and inquests related to Troubles crimes.

The Holden case is one of a series of high-profile prosecutions of veterans that have been pursued in Northern Ireland in recent years.

Additional reporting PA