The Government today voiced “deep regret” over the death of a Catholic man shot dead at an army checkpoint more than 20 years ago.
Formally recognising the “pain and suffering” of the family of Aidan McAnespie, it also reaffirmed that he died from a bullet fired by a soldier which ricocheted off the road. The family of Mr McAnespie, however, said they viewed the Government statement as an “official acknowledgement” of the more detailed facts of his death.
Relatives of the 24-year-old argued the statement amounted to recognition that the explanation for the killing given by the army was the least likely version of events.
And they concluded the fact the formal statement included both Secretary of State Shaun Woodward and Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth was “highly significant and positive”.
Mr McAnespie’s niece Una McCabe said today: “This is a huge step for the British Government. And just because (Secretary of State) Shaun Woodward has reiterated it was a ricochet does not mean it was not murder.”
The family now hopes the statement will lead the Irish Government to release its own report into the killing which has been kept under wraps for two decades.
“We have gone as far with the British Government as we can, now we hope the Irish Government will follow step. It is the final piece of the jigsaw,” Una said.
“The British statement must be taken as a whole. Mr Woodward says he is confident of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team which concluded the army’s explanation was the least likely version of events.”
Mr McAnespie was shot dead on February 21, 1988, as he walked through an army checkpoint at Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone after previously claiming he had been threatened by security force members. He was shot in the back from a range of nearly 300 metres.
In their statement today on behalf of the Government, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Defence Secretary said they recognised the pain and suffering of the McAnespie family and went on: “It is a matter of deep regret that Aidan was killed by a bullet fired by a soldier which ricocheted from the road.”
The family described a meeting in the last few days with Mr Woodward, at which they were accompanied by Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew and Fianna Fail senator Mary White, as highly emotional.
The meeting at Hillsborough Castle allowed Aidan’s elderly parents, John and Liz, “to explain the extensive harassment that Aidan had been subjected to in the lead-up to his death and the devastating effect of his loss on his family, friends and community”.
The circumstances of the shooting and the findings of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report were discussed and the family said it explained that the version of events offered by the army, that a bullet ricocheted off the ground and then killed Aidan “because a soldier had wet hands and was cleaning a gun which accidentally discharged”, was the “least likely” explanation according to the HET report. A family statement said: “Aidan was fatally wounded by a ricochet bullet.
“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.
“For years we have fought for truth and acknowledgement.
“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.”
* Source: Belfast Telegraph.