The campaign to free jailed SAS soldier Danny Nightingale was struck a blow after the Attorney General said it would be “inappropriate” for him to intervene in either the prosecution or the length of the sentence.
By Richard Alleyne and Victoria Ward
1:40PM GMT 20 Nov 2012
The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond wrote to Dominic Grieve today, asking him to review if proper consideration was given to the question of whether a prosecution of Sgt Danny Nightingale was in the public interest before the case was brought to court martial.
He asked him to review the case.
But Mr Grieve said today it would be “inappropriate” for him to interfere with the process of the law or review the decision to prosecute an SAS sergeant for illegal possession of a weapon.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said that it was for the court to decide whether he had been treated fairly.
“It would be inappropriate for the Attorney General to review either the decision to prosecute or comment on the appropriateness of the sentence,” a spokesman said.
“That is a matter for the Court Martial Appeal Court, in due course.”
Mr Grieve’s response will come as a blow to the family of Sgt Nightingale, who had welcomed Mr Hammond’s intervention earlier today.
Speaking before the Attorney General’s statement, the soldier’s wife Sally said the Defence Secretary’s action had given her hope that her husband would be released in time for Christmas.
Sgt Nightingale, a father of two who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is serving an 18-month sentence at the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, Essex, after admitting possessing a prohibited firearm and ammunition.
MPs will get an opportunity to raise concerns about his case with Solicitor General Oliver Heald this afternoon, after Canterbury MP Julian Brazier secured a debate in the House of Commons.
An MoD spokesman said: “The Defence Secretary has this morning asked the Attorney General for advice in relation to the case of Sgt Danny Nightingale.
“He has written to the Attorney General asking him to review whether the public interest test has been applied appropriately in this case.”
His intervention came after the five-year-old daughter of Sgt Nightingale jailed for possessing a pistol has written to David Cameron as part of a campaign to release him before Christmas.
Mara Nightingale has joined her mother Sally, 38, in asking the PM to intervene in the plight of Sgt Nightingale, 37.
He was sentenced to 18 months by court martial after an illegal Glock pistol given to him by grateful Iraqis was found in his belongings.
Sgt Nightingale, who has memory problems, said he had forgotten about the gift.
Now Mara, who along with her sister Alys, two, thinks her father is away on training, has written a heartfelt letter to Mr Cameron asking for his release.
Mara wrote: “Dear Mr Cameron, please help daddy come home in time for Christmas we hope you can help us Mara and Alys.”
Alongside she drew pictures of her parents and sister and a snowman.
Mara told the Sun: “I think my daddy will like my letter and picture.”
Her appeals joins those of Mrs Nightingale and four special forces veterans who have written to Prime Minister urging him to intervene.
They claim Sgt Nightingale was “the victim of a monstrous miscarriage of justice”.
Mrs Nightingale said: “I just hope they can see sense and they understand that Danny has served for his country in the last 17 years.
“He is an exemplary soldier and he isn’t a criminal and they can see sense to grant appeal today to get him home.
“It is hard for him. He is an active person. He is a passionate family man and needs to be released as soon as possible.”
She said that her husband was “gaunt” and “struggling” to cope after she visited him in Colchester military jail.
“Danny will be so proud of Mara’s letter — I hope Mr Cameron will help us get my husband home,” she said.
Thousands have signed a petition calling for Sgt Nightingale’s release and lawyers are due to launch an appeal this week.
Julian Brazier, MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, has secured an adjournment debate on the case and MPs will debate it this evening.
Last night Mr Brazier, a former captain in the SAS reserves, visited Sgt Nightingale at the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, Essex.
“It was humbling in a way to feel that such a guy, who has given so many years service could have been brought so low by a system of which I am part, the legislature,” he said.
“It filled me with a determination that we have to get justice for this guy.”
Lawyers for Sgt Nightingale will be lodging an appeal against his conviction and sentence later this week, as well as applying for bail, they said last night.
Simon McKay, from McKay Law Solicitors and Advocates, said: “Although unusual, an appeal against a guilty plea is permissible in English law, the test being whether the plea was a true acknowledgement of guilt.
“In this case the defence case is that Sgt Nightingale’s guilty plea was not.
“As an alternative, the defence case is that the sentence imposed on Sgt Nightingale was manifestly excessive.
“I am working with William Clegg, one of the country’s foremost criminal QCs.
“An application for bail will be made on lodging the appeal documentation.”
That support includes an open letter Mr Cameron from four former SAS members, including the former commanding officer,
The father of two pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a 9mm Glock pistol which had been packed up and returned to him by colleagues after he had to leave Iraq in a hurry to help organise the funeral of two friends killed in action.
He also admitted possessing ammunition.
The court martial heard that the gun was a gift from Iraqi soldiers he had been helping to train, but the father-of-two, who had suffered medical problems affecting his memory, said he did not remember having it.