CVS React to McAnespie Statement

27 August 2009

The Commission for Victims and Survivors welcomes today’s good news that the McAnespie family have finally received the recognition they have been seeking from the British Government over the killing of AidanMcAnespie in Aughnacloy in 1988. Commissioners Brendan McAllister and Michael Nesbitt joined the McAnespies this morning to hear Una McCabe, Aidan’s niece, describe how important it was that both the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence expressed deep regret at Aidan’s death and for the family’s pain and suffering.

Commission Chair Michael Nesbitt said, “It may seem strange to think of good news when we talk about victims and survivors, but today has seen a development which the family itself would have considered unthinkable a few years ago.

“They now have a Historical Enquiries Team report which says the official version of how Aidan died lacks all credibility, two senior British government ministers acknowledging the horrendous consequences of what happened, and they still retain their belief that Aidan was murdered without feeling the need to call for a prosecution.

“Today’s development is testament to the resolve of the family, and the support from organisations like the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice.

“It is also telling that the person who campaigned longest and hardest for Aidan was not there today. His sister Eilish passed away last year, and as we grapple with the best mechanisms for dealing with the past, we must bear in mind the importance of trying to afford victims and survivors truth and recognition before they too are no longer with us..”

We note that while the McAnespie family say today’s announcement brings to a close all outstanding issues between themselves and the British Government, they are still calling for the Dublin government to give them sight of their official report into the shooting. The Commission for Victims and Survivors has undertaken to make enquiries on the family’s behalf to ascertain why the Crowley report remains unpublished 21 years after Aidan McAnespie’s death.

For further information, please contact:

028 9031 1000
07514 072596

Notes for Editors:

1. The Commission for Victims & Survivors was established by the Victims & Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, amended by the Commission for Victims & Survivors Act (Northern Ireland) 2008

2. The four Commissioners are Michael Nesbitt (Chair), Brendan McAllister, Patricia MacBride and Bertha McDougall.

3. The Commission’s primary duty is to promote the interests of the victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict

It was also suggested in the interview with Guardsman Holden, and is a possibility, that he had been tracking the victim with the gun, or had the gun aimed at him, and had pulled the trigger, unaware that it had been left cocked, resulting in the discharge. The issue of the remains of a dust cap, still in place when the weapon was fired, may support this contention. He denied this account, however. The accidental discharge version is based on the statement of Guardsman Holden, supported to some degree by the findings of Forensic Scientist and Ballistic expert, Gary Montgomery. The evidence of a ricochet was also used to support this version.

This formed the rationale for the subsequent decisions made by the SIO and his senior officers to recommend no prosecution and possibly then the decision by the DPP not to prosecute. The opinion of Mr Montgomery, an experienced Forensic Scientist and ballistic expert, undoubtedly warrants serious consideration; however, the HET must assess it on the basis of it being an opinion and, like any opinion, open to debate and challenge. From a critical (and the family, perspective) it could be argued that his findings were too readily accepted by the police and not subject to any other expert scrutiny until Keith Borer’s submissions in 1990. He bases his opinion on his expectation that the three bullets fired would have struck in the same area if the weapon had been deliberately discharged from a firm firing position. Yet whilst one of the bullets struck below and to the left of the victim, the other two bullets struck, more or less, in the same area.

Given it is unknown, and likely to remain unknown, exactly under what conditions or circumstances Guardsman Holden fired the weapon, except for his version of events, then Mr Montgomery’s conclusions are arguable and, to some degree, based on assumptions made from the circumstances explained to him; for example, he does not appear to have been invited to consider whether a ‘surprise firing’ resulting from the soldier ‘tracking’ Aidan with the weapon, unaware that it was cocked, might account for the spread of strike marks. If the nearest/lowest strike mark (KD 1) resulted from the first shot fired from the gun, it would to some degree support the contention that the gun was not aimed at the victim. However, if the first shot fired, resulted in the ricochet from the fatal strike mark (KD 2) then this could support the assertion that the gun was aimed at the victim or in his vicinity.

In Mr Montgomery’s report, the possibility that the fatal ricochet was as a result of the first shot discharged from the weapon is not examined. The evidence of the fatal shot being a ricochet is also used to support the accidental discharge version, which is perceived by the family as ruling out the other options; yet an aimed shot, directed close by the target, could also have resulted in an unplanned ricochet with catastrophic consequences. This does not seem to have been considered. The fact that the bullet struck the roadway only a metre or so behind the victim at a distance of 283.4 metres from the firing point, does not add any great weight to the view that the shooting was accidental and conversely could indicate that the gun was deliberately aimed towards him.

An impartial and objective observer must question the likelihood of an accidental, random discharge striking the roadway only a few feet behind, what would be from the vantage point of the machine gun post, a miniscule figure at a distance of 283.4 metres. The statistical odds, as outlined by Independent Ballistic expert Keith Borer, are strongly against the accidental discharge account. When the facts that the victim of this alleged random shot was a subject that the soldiers had kept under observation, and was perceived by them as a potential terrorist suspect, are added to the equation, then the likelihood that it was a random shot is even less. Add to this the minimum 9lb pressure required to pull the trigger and the probability of ‘accidental firing’ recedes further.

Having weighed up these propositions and taken all the circumstances into account, none of the three scenarios outlined can be definitively ruled out; Guardsman Holden’s version of events, however, can be considered to be the least likely.

The HET cannot judge, on the available evidence, whether the shot was fired deliberately or unintentionally. The fact that the dust cover was in place, and the possibility that the weapon may well have been left cocked without the knowledge of Guardsman Holden, may support the view that the actual discharge was unintentional. However, the chances of it being un-aimed or random seem to be so remote in the circumstances that they can be virtually disregarded.

This leaves the option of a deliberate shot, or the option that Guardsman Holden was ‘tracking’ Aidan with his weapon aimed, and was unaware that the weapon was cocked when the trigger was pulled. The family believe that it was a deliberate shot, either to kill Aidan or aimed nearby to scare him.

In the final analysis, the HET is of the view that, whatever the truth of the matter in this case, it is unlikely that the GPMG was discharged in the circumstances, or in the manner, described by Guardsman Holden.