British soldier to stand trial for McAnespie killing

Aidan McAnespie was shot in the back as he walked to a Gaelic football match in 1988.

A soldier is to stand trial for the 1988 fatal shooting of a man as he walked through a British Army checkpoint during Britain’s military occupation of the six counties in Ireland’s north still claimed by Britain.

Aidan McAnespie, aged 23, was killed at the border in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, in February 1988 as he walked to a Gaelic football match. He was shot in the back.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) finally announced its intention to prosecute a 48-year-old former soldier for gross negligence manslaughter.

McAnespie was on his way to a local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club when he was shot with a machine gun by the soldier. He had been hounded and harassed by the Crown Forces since 1981, right up until the morning of his death when he and his mother Elizabeth were stopped and detained at a British base for two hours on their way back from the wake of a relative.

McAnespie had been the target of systematic harassment since the age of 17. On the day of his death, his movements would have been routinely noted by the Crown forces as he passed through the checkpoint. He was killed by a single bullet.

The soldier claimed his hands were wet and his finger slipped on the trigger of his heavy military weapon. He was initially charged with manslaughter, but the charge was later dropped. He was later fined for negligently firing his weapon.

The McAnespie family welcomed the historic decision to prosecute a soldier. His brother Vincent said the family had faced a “brick wall” in their 30-year campaign.

“It’s truth and justice we want to get,” he said. “He was just an ordinary local lad from the community that just wanted to go about his ordinary everyday life.”

Cousin Brian Gormley said relatives were relieved the circumstances of the case were going to be examined in a court of law.

“The opportunity of actually getting to the truth of what happened in this case is still very much alive and we as a family are committed to pursuing that until we get to the very bottom of what happened that day,” he said. “This is one further step.”

Sinn Fein MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew told the Telegraph: “We have consistently called for transparency in all cases for families to get the truth they deserve. Every family has the right to know what happened to their loved ones.”

Speaking of the victims of the violence of “The Troubles” in Ireland’s north, Gildernew noted people from all communities had suffered. But she noted: “The only people not to be held to account were those involved in state killings.”

[Reprinted from Irish Republican News.]