Family Welcome Findings of HET Focused Investigation

12 October 2008

The family of Aidan Mc Anespie who was shot and fatally wounded by a British soldier in 1988 have issued the following statement through the Pat Finucane Centre.

 

Speaking at the weekend Una Mc Anespie, niece of the victim said,

"Within the last week we have had a further meeting with the Historical Enquiries Team as a follow-up to the interim report which we received earlier this year. That interim report described the officially accepted version of the incident, that the weapon discharge that led to the death of Aidan had been accidental and random, as the least likely explanation.  As agreed we have now been provided with a full resolution report which is the result of the focused investigation. This report, in our view, is a devastating rebuttal of the British Army version of events and represents the closest that we as a family have got to the truth of what occurred that day."

The HET considered three scenarios; 
1)  Guardsman Holden accidentally discharged the gun in the manner described by him in his statements or in some other unknown and undisclosed circumstances.
2)  Guardsman Holden deliberately discharged a burst of aimed shots at the victim or his vicinity.
3)  Guardsman Holden was tracking the victim with the gun, or was aiming the gun at him, and being unaware that the gun was cocked and ready to fire, inadvertently discharging the three shots.

In respect of the 'accidental discharge' theory, the first scenario, the  report concluded,

"When the facts that the victim of this alleged random shot was a subject that the soldiers 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."

The HET report continued,

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

In respect of the fatal shot the HET concluded,

"the chances of it being un-aimed or random seem so remote in the circumstances that they can be virtually disregarded."

In response Una Mc Anespie said,

"As a family we feel that a huge burden has been lifted as a result of these latest findings. The claim that Aidan was killed by a ricochet bullet fired at random because a soldier had wet slippy fingers which inadvertently came in contact with the trigger and that Aidan was not being tracked at that precise moment has been firmly rebutted. The official scenario, as accepted by the British Army and the prosecution service, can be regarded as so remote that it can be virtually disregarded.
This investigation examined the circumstances in the context of the harassment that Aidan suffered and Guardsman Holden’s perception of Aidan as the enemy. The official explanation of the events of Sunday February 21 1988 have been deconstructed in their entirety. My mother, Elish, fought for 20 years to have the truth told. It was a great comfort to her to receive the interim report before she died earlier this summer. These latest findings are a lasting tribute to her efforts and a vindication of our beloved son, brother and uncle Aidan."

Background

On Sunday 21 February 1988, Aidan McAnespie was shot and fatally wounded by a soldier firing a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) from the permanent British army checkpoint at Aughnacloy Co. Tyrone. A Grenadier Guardsman, David Holden, was charged with manslaughter but the Director of Public Prosecutions later withdrew this charge. 
Holden claimed that he was moving the GPMG when his wet fingers, which were allegedly wet from cleaning the sanger, slipped onto the trigger, which resulted in the discharge of three shots. One of the shots struck Aidan in the back, fatally wounding him. According to the ballistic and forensic evidence, the fatal shot was a ricochet. Guardsman Holden denied that he aimed at Aidan or was tracking him and claimed that the incident was a tragic accident. 
Aidan McAnespie was routinely stopped and harassed by the British army as he passed through the Aughnacloy check point on his way to work or going to the GAA club located past the checkpoint. As with many nationalists at the time Aidan was considered by the British army to be an IRA suspect, therefore, his movements were observed and recorded by the soldiers at the check point. He had made numerous complaints to the RUC about the harassment and had raised this in the media. In the minutes before the shooting there is incontrovertible evidence that he was being tracked as he walked through the checkpoint. 
Gdsm Holden claimed that he moved the weapon by holding the pistol grip with a 'loose grip'. As he did, his finger slipped and he inadvertently pulled the trigger. The HET test fired a GPMG and found that: 
 

"Activating the trigger required having a firm grip on the pistol grip and squeezing the trigger until it activated. It was found to be difficult and required considerable force to activate the trigger without having the hand firmly gripped around the pistol grip." 

Therefore, Holden's loose grip explanation contradicted the results of the practical test on the weapon. 
Furthermore, the HET discovered that the gun was mounted on to a pivot, which allowed the weapon to be swivelled. Therefore there was no necessity for Holden to have his hand on the pistol grip and finger on the trigger guard since he only had to swivel the butt of the weapon on the pivot in order to reposition the weapon. In addition another soldier confirmed that he had already repositioned the weapon.  
Holden claimed that his hands were still wet from cleaning the Sanger 10 minutes earlier. HET investigators have analysed the activities in the sangar that day which showed that the cleaning was conducted by a cleaning party and that Holden had resumed look- out duty a half hour before the shooting. The ‘wet hands’ scenario is difficult to reconcile with the timing of the cleaning duties. 
Lance Sergeant Peters gave evidence that on entering the sangar after the shooting and asking Holden what had happened the reply was that he had squeezed the trigger.

 Investigation:

Holden was not interviewed by the RUC until more than 24 hours after the incident. In the intervening period he remained in military custody. There was a further 24 hour delay before the second interview took place. 
The crime scene was not forensically examined until the next day and the  scene was not secured in the interim. This would result in 'crime scene evidence recovered being questionable' according to the HET.

 Forensic & Ballistics

The gun had been dismantled and cleaned earlier that day. It has not been established why or by whom the gun was left cocked and with the safety catch off. This was totally in contravention of standing orders. 
The forensic evidence concluded that a ricochet bullet, which struck the ground just directly behind Aidan before it entered his body, inflicted the fatal injury. 
The weapon discharged three rounds and the fatal bullet was a tracer round. There is now no way of knowing whether the fatal bullet was the first or the last of three shots fired. Swab tests taken from the roadway no longer exist. 
 If the first shot fired resulted in the ricochet from the fatal strike mark then this could support the assertion that the gun was aimed at the victim or in his vicinity. However, the HET has since discovered that the forensic report gave no consideration to the possibility that the fatal ricochet was a result of the first shot discharged from the weapon. The forensic scientist did not test the stike marks on the road to ascertain which were the result of racer bullets-a test which would have been evidentially important. 
It should be noted that there is clear evidence that the Guardsman had Aidan, whom he considered to be a suspect, under close observation as he passed through the checkpoint. However at the moment of discharge Holden claimed to have been physically repositioning the weapon. In other words he claims not to have been aiming at or tracking Aidan when the shots were fired. 
The HET report noted 

"An impartial and independent 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 meters. The statistical odds, as outlined by Independent Ballistic expert Keith Borer, are strongly against the accidental discharge theory."