Royal Marine appeals against his conviction for killing Taliban insurgent
Sergeant Alexander Blackman, found guilty in November of murdering unlawful combatant in Helmand, says conviction was unsafe
by Steven Morris and agency
10 April 2014
A Royal Marine found guilty of murdering a badly injured Taliban insurgent has asked three of the country’s most senior judges to overturn his “unsafe” conviction.
Sergeant Alexander Blackman, who is serving a minimum of 10 years in a civilian jail, has launched an appeal against his conviction at the court martial appeal court in London.
If his appeal against conviction is rejected the court will be asked to reduce the length of time he must serve before being considered for parole.
His defence team has described the minimum term as “manifestly excessive”.
Blackman, who was not in court for the appeal, was found guilty in November of murdering the injured Afghan in Helmand in 2011 by firing a pistol into his chest as he lay helpless after being wounded by helicopter fire.
The vastly experienced and respected marine was caught by chance on a head camera worn by another of the marines on his patrol shooting the man and then telling him: “Shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”
During his court martial in Wiltshire, Blackman insisted that he had believed the man was already dead when he opened fire and he had shot in frustration towards the end of a hard tour during which close colleagues had been killed.
But the board that heard the case dismissed his defence and in December jailed him for life in a civilian prison and ordered that he be dismissed from the armed forces.
The Judge Advocate General, Jeff Blackett, said he had to be dealt with severely to show the international community that battlefield crimes committed by British troops would not be tolerated.
As soon as he was sentenced Blackman’s lawyers made it clear that he would appeal. Blackman’s wife, Claire Warner-Blackman, said his sentence was too severe and highlighted the mental tension he was under during the tour. She said he opened fire in a moment of madness.
In a BBC interview this week she argued he was no risk to society and should be released.
She said: “It’s very obvious he is in the wrong place. There’s an awful lot of politics, international politics, tied up with this case, and I absolutely understand that, but for me, at the end of the day, this is about one man and his life, and for something not to happen because of politics just seems wrong. Bottom line, Al is no risk to society.”
Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions or joined social media campaigns supporting Blackman. Privately in military circles there is unease and anger that he was given what many consider a harsh sentence and there is huge sympathy for him and his family.
Blackman’s QC, Anthony Berry, said the marine’s conviction was “inherently unsafe” because of the possibility that the seven-person court martial board convicted him on a simple majority.”
Typically in a crown court case, a majority verdict must have 10 or 11 out of 12 agreeing. In a court martial the military board only has to reach a simple majority.
Berry said: “The appellant submits that the possibility that he was convicted by a simple majority renders his conviction inherently unsafe.”
He argued that “by virtue of the possibility that he was convicted by a simple majority of a seven-man board there remains doubt as to whether the prosecution in fact satisfied the criminal standard of proof”.
Berry claimed voting requirements in crown court proceedings constituted important procedural safeguards that are “unfairly denied” to those subject to the court martial process.
On the length of sentence, Berry told the judges the incident happened “in a moment of madness”. There was a “cocktail of circumstances which led this brave and modest man, to whom loyal duty and allegiance to the corps was second to nothing, briefly to lose his head”.
He added that “despite the fact that this is an extremely unusual case and gives rise to many different reactions from people, including the public”, the sentence of 10 years was too long.
Philip Havers QC, making submissions on behalf of the defence secretary Philip Hammond, submitted that the challenge was “misconceived”. He said court martial proceedings had recently been investigated and judged fair.
At the completion of legal argument, Lord Thomas said the court would take time to consider the appeal. No date was given for the ruling.
Blackman’s wife was present for the hearing but said she would not be making a comment until after the court gives its decision.
This is an ingenious ground for appeal which seems to possess some merit from a jurisprudential point of view. But whether Al Blackman’s offence is rightly ajudged to have been technically one of murder, or not, insufficient weight has yet been accorded all of the extraordinary extenuating and mitigating circumstances of the case.
When these are properly and impartially considered, in their entirety, by a set of fresh judicial minds, the outcome ought to be more in keeping with what natural justice demands.
My own view is that Mr Blackman’s sentence should be commuted to a term of imprisonment that is equivalent to time served, failing which he should be granted a pardon. Either way, he should be discharged from prison as soon as possible.