BETRAYED BY TOP BRASS... SAVED BY YOU
Wife’s joy as Marine hung out to dry by the Establishment is cleared of murder — thanks to Mail readers who raised £800K for legal fight
THE Royal Marine left to rot in jail by top brass had his murder conviction overturned yesterday.
The ruling was a huge victory for Daily Mail readers who helped raise £800,000 for Alexander Blackman’s appeal against his conviction for shooting a wounded Taliban insurgent.
The verdict was downgraded to manslaughter by top judges who said he was suffering from combat stress. His wife Claire beamed with joy after the hearing. But there was no reaction from the military commanders who all but abandoned Sgt Blackman on the battlefield and deserted him at his trial.
A ROYAL Marine was cleared of murdering a Taliban insurgent yesterday following a Daily Mail campaign.
Judges downgraded Alexander Blackman’s conviction to manslaughter after accepting expert evidence he had combat stress. The sergeant – known as Marine A when he was jailed for life at his trial – said a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He could walk free within days.
More than 30,000 Daily Mail readers helped fund the £800,000 legal challenge that led to yesterday’s triumph at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London. Sgt Blackman’s loyal wife Claire beamed at the verdict.
But there was a deafening silence from the military commanders who let Sgt Blackman down on the battlefield then hung him out to dry at his court martial.
The judges reduced his conviction to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, saying he had been subjected to exceptional pressures in the lead-up to the incident.
He will face a new sentencing hearing in about a week, where his legal team will argue he should be freed immediately because of the three and half years he has served.
Mrs Blackman emerged from the court on the Strand yesterday to wild cheering. She was with Frederick Forsyth who, in a clear reference to top brass, called for the ‘villains’ who put Sgt Blackman in jail to be shamed. The Day of the Jackal author added: ‘The fight is not over yet. We must free a man who has been put in jail who should never have been there.
‘Then we must go after those people who wrongly and villainously put him there.’
Mrs Blackman said: ‘Al and I cannot thank the Daily Mail and its readers enough. They helped us up when we were down, and without the thousands of readers who gave their support, we would never have reached this moment.’
Sgt Blackman was not in court for the hearing but he spoke to his wife by telephone afterwards. She said: ‘ Al said a huge weight had been lifted. That means so much to us. We can start to think about the future now.’
Her husband’s QC, Jonathan Goldberg, said: ‘ The heroine, of course, is Claire Blackman. Without her indefatigable efforts to keep the flame alive on behalf of her husband and to get that debate in Parliament, which sparked the interest of the public and the Daily Mail, and which led directly to today’s victory, none of this would have happened.’
He said the hero was Mr Forsyth, who ‘knew a miscarriage of justice when he smelt one’.
Mr Goldberg added: ‘In a long career as defence counsel, I recall few cases that were prosecuted as remorselessly as this one from first to last. And those ones involved dangerous criminals, not a hitherto exemplary British soldier driven way past his breaking point in an impossible war by hellish conditions and inadequate moral and material support.’
The judges delivered a withering ruling that smashed the notion that Sgt Blackman, 42, had conducted a ‘cold-blooded execution’
‘The heroine is his wife’
in September 2011. The insurgent he shot had already been mortally wounded trying to storm a British outpost in Helmand Province.
Led by Britain’s most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, the panel hailed the sergeant as an ‘exemplary soldier’ who had acted entirely out of character.
They accepted the unanimous evidence of three psychiatrists who all diagnosed an ‘adjustment disorder’ – a recognised mental illness – which muddled his mind. The disorder was caused by the ‘quite exceptional’ stresses and perils that Sgt Blackman and his men faced holding the front line at their remote base.
His ability to form a rational judgement and to exercise self-control on the day of the shooting were ‘substantially impaired’, said the judges. They added: ‘In our view, the adjustment disorder had put the appellant in the state of mind to kill’. They said the ‘decision to kill was probably impulsive’.
After Sgt Blackman was convicted in 2013, David Cameron described it as ‘appalling story’ and said the case of a man who served six tours of duty in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan ‘in no way represents the incredible spirit, courage and history of the Royal Marines’. Chancellor Philip Hammond – then defence secretary – vowed there would be no clemency. But a Daily Mail investigation revealed vital evidence had been ‘deliberately withheld’ from the court martial.
The Ministry of Defence tried to sweep under the carpet an internal report that cast grave doubt on the murder conviction but it was leaked to the Daily Mail.
After yesterday’s victory, Theresa May told the Commons the Government respected the judgment and would examine it ‘very closely’.
Conservative MP Rebecca Pow demanded the Prime Minister ensure servicemen ‘be treated with fairness and understanding and given adequate resources – including for mental health support’ in future. Colonel Oliver Lee, one of the few top brass to emerge with credit – he resigned in protest at the treatment of Sgt Blackman – said: ‘It is a good day and a fair day. I am very pleased Sgt Blackman has now been dealt with justly.’
The MoD said: ‘We respect the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on it.’
Comrades of Sergeant Blackman told last night’s BBC Panorama they were glad he shot the insurgent. Sam Deen, who was on the fateful patrol, said they had all wanted to do it. Another said ‘everyone wanted that guy dead’.