Page last updated at 18:29 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 19:29 UK

'Regret' over NI checkpoint death

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The British government expresses "deep regret" over the death of a Tyrone man shot by a soldier.

The British government has expressed "deep regret" at the death of a Tyrone man shot by a soldier 21 years ago.

Aidan McAnespie, 23, was killed as he walked through a border checkpoint at Aughnacloy in February 1988.

NI Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said the government recognised the "suffering" of the McAnespie family.

"It is a matter of deep regret that Aidan was killed by a bullet fired by a soldier which ricocheted from the road," he said.

The statement was co-signed by the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.

The soldier who fired the fatal shot claimed his hands were wet, causing him to accidentally fire the machine-gun when he was moving it inside a sanger.

However, a PSNI Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report released last year called this the "least likely version" of what happened.

It said it was more likely that the soldier either fired a deliberate shot or was "tracking'" Mr McAnespie with his weapon aimed, and was unaware that the weapon was cocked when the trigger was pulled.

Members of Mr McAnespie's family met the secretary of state within the last week to discuss the HET report.

"Given the findings of the HET report we find it highly significant and positive that the Minister of Defence has co-signed this public statement along with the Northern Ireland Secretary," Mr McAnespie's niece Una McCabe said.

"For years we have fought for truth and acknowledgement.

Since part of the objectives of the HET is to bring solace and comfort to families and loved ones, we hope this will be the case for Aidan's family
Shaun Woodward

"The HET report, in our view, represents the closest that we as a family have got to the truth of what occurred that day.

"The meeting with Shaun Woodward is the acknowledgement at official level that was missing."

Mr Woodward said it was not for the government either to accept or comment on the specific HET findings.

"However, in overall terms the government endorses its work and has confidence in the HET's professionalism and thoroughness.

'Significant'

"Since part of the objectives of the HET is to bring solace and comfort to families and loved ones, we hope this will be the case for Aidan's family."

Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew, who accompanied the family to the meeting with Mr Woodward, said it was "significant" that the British government had expressed regret about the killing.

"But the British government need to reflect long and hard about this case," she said.

"It is a disgrace that it has taken 20 years of campaigning to get the British government to this point."

Michael Nesbitt, chair of the Commission for Victims and Survivors, 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."

Forensic evidence had suggested the fatal shot, which was fired from more than 300m, ricocheted off the road close to Mr McAnespie.

He had claimed he had been threatened on several occasions by security force members in the months before the shooting.

The soldier was charged with manslaughter, but this was later withdrawn.

He was later fined for negligent discharge of a weapon and given a medical discharge from the army.



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