David Cameron has been urged to intervene to secure the release of a former SAS sniper who was jailed for possessing a pistol given to him as a present by Iraqi soldiers he trained.
By Sam Marsden
2:46PM GMT 14 Nov 2012
Four high-profile British special forces veterans have written to the Prime Minister appealing for help to overturn a “monstrous miscarriage of justice” in the case of Sergeant Danny Nightingale.
They compared his treatment by the judicial system to that given to Abu Qatada, the extremist cleric who was released on bail this week after winning an appeal against his extradition to Jordan.
A court martial last week sentenced Sgt Nightingale, a married father-of-two, to 18 months in military detention after he pleaded guilty to illegally possessing the “war trophy” 9mm Glock pistol.
The weapon was packed up and returned to him by colleagues after he had to leave Iraq in a hurry to help organise the funeral of two close friends who were killed in action.
The former SAS soldier, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 17-year military career, said he could not remember having the gun.
The court martial heard that he suffered severe memory loss due to a brain injury caused when he fell into a coma after collapsing on a fund-raising trek in Brazil in 2009.
SAS veterans Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams, who was Sgt Nightingale’s commanding officer in Iraq, Colonel Tim Collins, Andy McNab and Chris Ryan today sent an open letter to Mr Cameron, published by The Sun, condemning the “shameful betrayal” of the soldier.
They wrote: “We say this prosecution should never have happened. Furthermore, we say he was bullied into a guilty plea. And lastly, we say the custodial sentence is completely disproportionate to the alleged crime.
“We say he is the victim of a shameful travesty of justice and we demand immediate action.
“Compare this man’s case to that of Abu Qatada and see if it is fair.
“We call on you to exercise leadership and judgment and to release Sgt Nightingale today on licence, so that this case can be reviewed with the utmost haste.”
Sgt Nightingale served in Iraq in 2007 as a member of Task Force Black, a covert counter-terrorist unit that conducted operations to capture and kill members of al-Qaeda.
He also helped to train members of a secret Iraqi army counter-terrorist force called “The Apostles”. At the end of his time with them he was presented with the Glock, which he intended to donate to his regiment as a war trophy.
However, when two of his best friends were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq in November 2007, he had to accompany their bodied back to Britain and help arrange their funerals.
This left his comrades to pack up his equipment, including the pistol, which was sent to SAS headquarters in Hereford and on to his home, where it remained locked in a box until it was discovered during an unrelated police search in 2011.
Sgt Nightingale had been planning to fight the charge but pleaded guilty after being warned he faced a five-year sentence. His lawyer, Simon McKay, confirmed that he plans to appeal.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We do not ordinarily comment on UK special forces for very good reasons.
“It would also be wrong to comment on the process, findings, convictions or sentences of a court that may be subject to appeal.
“It is for the courts, and the courts alone, to determine the guilt or otherwise of any person accused of an offence.”
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