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It takes a nation to protect the nation

An SAS soldier has been jailed for possessing a “war trophy” pistol presented to him by the Iraqi Army for outstanding service.

Betrayal of an SAS war hero
Sgt Danny Nightingale with his wife Sally on their wedding day and, right, on duty Photo: WARREN SMITH

Sgt Danny Nightingale, a special forces sniper who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was sentenced to 18 months in military detention by a court martial last week.

His sentence was described last night as the “betrayal of a war hero”, made worse because it was handed down in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday.

Sgt Nightingale had planned to fight the charge of illegally possessing the 9mm Glock.

But his lawyer said he pleaded guilty after being warned that he could otherwise face a five-year sentence.

The soldier had hoped for leniency given the circumstances. At the court martial, even the prosecution described him as a serviceman of exemplary character, who had served his country for 17 years, 11 in the special forces.

The court was told that he returned to Britain in a hurry after two friends were killed in Iraq, leaving his equipment — including the pistol — to be packed up by colleagues.

It accepted evidence from expert witnesses that he suffered severe memory loss due to a brain injury.

Judge Advocate Alistair McGrigor, presiding over the court martial, could have spared the soldier prison by passing a suspended sentence. Instead he handed down the custodial term.

Sgt Nightingale and his family chose to waive the anonymity usually given to members of the special forces.

His wife, Sally, said her husband’s sentence was a “disgrace”. She called him a “hero who had been betrayed”. She said she and the couple’s two daughters, aged two and five, faced losing their home after his Army pay was stopped.

The soldier’s former commanding officer and politicians have called for the sentence to be overturned.

Lt Col Richard Williams, who won a Military Cross in Afghanistan in 2001 and was Sgt Nightingale’s commanding officer in Iraq, said the sentence “clearly needed to be overturned immediately”.

He said: “His military career has been ruined and his wife and children face being evicted from their home — this is a total betrayal of a man who dedicated his life to the service of his country.”

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP for Newark and a former infantry officer, said he planned to take up the case with the Defence Secretary. Simon McKay, Sgt Nightingale’s lawyer, said: “On Remembrance Sunday, when the nation remembers its war heroes, my client — one of their number — is in a prison cell.

"I consider the sentence to be excessive and the basis of the guilty plea unsafe. It is a gross miscarriage of justice and grounds of appeal are already being prepared.”

In 2007, Sgt Nightingale was serving in Iraq as a member of Task Force Black, a covert counter-terrorist unit that conducted operations under orders to capture and kill members of al-Qaeda.

He also helped train members of a secret counter-terrorist force called the Apostles. At the end of the training he was presented with the Glock, which he planned to donate to his regiment as a war trophy.

But in November 2007, two of Sgt Nightingale’s closest friends, Sgt John

Battersby and Cpl Lee Fitzsimmons, were killed in a helicopter crash. He accompanied both bodies back to Britain and helped arrange the funerals.

In Iraq, his equipment was packed by colleagues, one of whom placed the pistol inside a container that was sent first to the SAS regimental headquarters in Hereford, then to his home where it remained unopened until 2010.

In 2009, Sgt Nightingale, now a member of the SAS selection staff, took part in a 200-mile fund-raising trek in Brazil. He collapsed after 30 miles and fell into a coma for three days.

He recovered but his memory was severely damaged, according to two expert witnesses, including Prof Michael Kopleman of King’s College, London, an authority on memory loss.

In May, 2010, Sgt Nightingale was living in a house with another soldier close to the regiment’s headquarters when he was posted to Afghanistan at short notice.

During the tour, his housemate’s estranged wife claimed her husband had assaulted her and kept a stash of ammunition in the house. West Mercia Police raided the house and found the Glock, still in its container.

Sgt Nightingale’s court martial did not dispute that the pistol had been a gift. It accepted statements from expert witnesses, including Dr Susan Young, a forensic psychologist also from King’s College, London. She said that he probably had no recollection that he had the gun.

The court also accepted that Sgt Nightingale had suffered severe memory loss. But the judge did not believe that he had no recollection of being in possession of the weapon.

Tags: 18, SAS, UK:, booking, error, for, hero, jailed, months, war, More…zmilitary, zuk

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SAS war hero betrayed by the Army, says wife

The wife of SAS soldier Danny Nightingale tells Sean Rayment about the impact her husband's courtmartial has had on the family.

Sally Nightingale the wife of court marshalled soldier Danny Nightingale with their daughters Mara 5 and Alys 2 at home in Crewe Photo: Warren Smith

Sally Nightingale is a woman who knows the meaning both of loyalty and sacrifice.

As the wife of an SAS soldier, she learned to live with the knowledge that a knock on the door could bring news of her husband’s death.

But she never complained and instead stood by her husband as he took part in secret operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking everything in the service of his government and country.

In six years of marriage, the couple has effectively spent three years apart.

Today, as the nation remembers its fallen heroes, she is wondering whether the worry, the pain and the sacrifice have been worth anything, as her husband languishes inside, a military prison, his career and future in tatters.

“I expected to be opening a bottle of Champagne and getting our lives back on track,” said Mrs Nightingale.

“Instead I had to tell my two daughters, Mara who is five and Alys, who’s just two and a half, that daddy wasn’t coming home.

“I can’t bear to tell them at he’s in prison and will not be home for a long time - I still can’t believe it myself.

“I feel as though I am in a horrible dream. Danny has been hung out to dry and the whole family is suffering. He is a hero who has been betrayed by the Army and the government.

"He is being treated as though he was a common criminal - it just doesn’t make sense.

“Danny’s Army pay has been stopped - I can’t pay the mortgage and we may lose our home - the whole family is being punished.”

What put Mrs Nightingale in this situation was a sequence of events which has seen her husband taken from a role at the heart of protecting his country to a military detention centre in Colchester.

Even in the SAS Sgt Nightingale was something special. As well as a trained sniper, he was a qualified medic who designed a new field dressing, which is now used by the SAS, the American Delta Force, and Britain’s Ambulance Service.

The device is now known as the “Nightingale Dressing” and has reputedly saved hundreds of lives.

In 2007, Sgt Nightingale was serving in Iraq as part of a secret British-US counter-terrorist unit known as Task Force Black.

The unit was composed of members of the SAS and Delta Force, its American equivalent, and their mission was to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda.

Baghdad was then at the nexus of a violent insurgency driven by terrorists who thought nothing of killing hundreds of innocent civilians every day.

Every evening Sgt Nightingale’s team, working alongside a group of Iraqi special forces known as “The Apostles”, would venture onto the streets to hunt down al-Qaeda terrorists. It was later described as the most intense period of war fighting in SAS history.

Towards the end of the tour Sgt Nightingale was presented with a 9mm Glock by the Iraqis as a gift.

He intended to have it decommissioned and hung on the SAS sergeants’ mess wall as a war trophy, alongside dozens of others amassed by the regiment in operations.

But days before he was due to be flown home, two members of his squadron, Sgt John Battersby and Cpl Lee Fitzsimmons, were killed when their helicopter crashed. The two men were burnt to death, and Sgt Nightingale was escorted the bodies back home and helped arrange the funerals of his friends.

“As soon as Danny returned home he went straight to John’s wife offering her support and arranging the funerals.

"He was exhausted, all of his squadron were, but he would not talk about what happened on operations - he never did and I accepted that,” his wife said.

Meanwhile his operational equipment - and the pistol - was packed away in Iraq by members of the regiment and sent back to Hereford, where it remained locked away on the base in the secure “cage” which every SAS trooper uses.

The couple on their wedding day and Sgt Danny Nightingale on duty

Stung by the death of his two friends, Sgt Nightingale decided to raise thousands of pound for the regiment’s “Clock Tower Fund”, which supports the widows and orphans of dead SAS soldiers by choosing to take partin one of the most arduous races on earth - the Brazil Jungle Marathon where competitors race over 200 miles through the Amazon basin.

But ultimately the race would prove to be Sgt Nightingale’s undoing and set him on a journey which would end with his imprisonment.

On the first day of competition he collapsed. As medics fought to revive him, Sgt Nightingale’s body temperature rose to 111F and his body began to convulse in series of violent fits before he slipped into a three-day coma.

He was eventually flown back to Britain, virtually unable to speak and suffering from terrible memory loss.

“He was talking like a two-year-old and couldn’t even remember he had a daughter,” his wife continued..

“I don’t actually think he could remember anything at all. He was sent to Headley Court but only for rehabilitation, there were no brain functioning tests or anything.

“A few weeks later he was out and the SAS said take two weeks off and come back to work. In the end he was off for three months.”

But Danny was not the same person. He had suffered brain damage and would later learn that he had lost pockets of memory.

Crucially, one of them was the Glock pistol, locked away inside the cage within the headquarters, which had disappeared from his memory.

“Danny got himself fit again but was very good at hiding his memory problems,” Mrs Nightingale said.

“He would make lists so that he never forgot. He knew that if he ever admitted that he had a problem his future in the SAS would be in doubt. Danny lived for the regiment. He was totally loyal, totally committed.”

As far as the regiment were concerned, Sgt Nightingale was ready to serve, and in 2010 he joined the regiment’s counter-terrorist team. It meant being on constant alert and ready at any time to go on active duty.

“Danny needed to be close to the regiment’s headquarters so he moved into an Army house with one of his mates,” said Mrs Nightingale.

His equipment - crucially including the pistol, locked inside a box - was taken from the “cage” and put in the Army quarters.

In May 2011, both men were sent on a six month tour to Afghanistan. A few weeks after they left, his colleague’s wife complained to the police that she was a victim of domestic violence and that her husband had ammunition in his house.

The complaint resulted in a raid on the house in which civilian police searched not just his colleague’s possessions, but Sgt Nightingale’s, and found the Glock pistol. It was in the box in which Sgt Nightingale had locked it in 2007.

Both men were sent back to Britain and Sgt Nightingale was questioned by West Mercia Police, who did not press charges.

Instead the police decided it was a matter for the military, and the case was passed to the Royal Military Police and both men who were charged with firearms offences.

Last Tuesday morning he appeared at a court martial, presided over by Judge Advocate Alistair McGrigor.

Sgt Nightingale knew that he could either fight the charge or plead guilty.

He was told by the judge advocate that if he fought the case and was found guilty he would get a minimum of five years in a civilian prison. If he pleaded guilty, however, the court would treat him leniently.

He and his family stepped outside the court to talk.

Courts martial broadly follow civilian sentencing guidelines, although they are not compelled to. A civilian judge would have followed guidelines which impose a five-year mandatory sentence for possession of a handgun.

Although some judges have imposed lower sentences, including one man jailed for a year for ordering a gun online which he did not actually receive, such cases are rare.

Judge Advocate McGrigor, however, could have imposed a far lower sentence, and Sgt Nightingale’s legal team believed he would.

“Danny’s priority was to get home to his family - five years in a civilian prison is not going to get him home to his family,” said Mrs Nightingale.

“The decision to plead guilty was about creating the minimum damage. It hurts us both with every bone in our body to be forced to go back into the court and say 'I’m guilty’ but that’s what we had to do to try and limit the damage.

“At that stage I didn’t think he would go to prison, never. We spent the afternoon going over the case. We went into court on Wednesday morning, the prosecution put their case forward, which was quite positive.

“The prosecutor said he was an exemplary soldier but he has been found in possession of an illegal firearm and we need to deal with this appropriately.

“We had testimony from two expert witnesses who supported Danny’s case and said that it was completely possible that his brain injury meant that he never knew the gun existed.

“I believe that, because he never spoke about having a Glock. I never knew anything about it until he was sent home from Afghanistan.”

The court accepted that the Glock pistol had been given to Sgt Nightingale as a gift and the testimony from the expert witnesses who stated that he had suffered from severe memory loss.

But the judge refused to accept that Sgt Nightingale was not aware that he was in possession of an illegal firearm and sentenced him to 18 months in the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, known to the military as “the glasshouse”.

He will be discharged from the Army once his sentenced is complete, and will have with a criminal conviction which will make it difficult to secure employment.

Stripped of the SAS career he loved, Sgt Nightingale must hope that the appeal his legal team will lodge against both conviction and sentence succeed.

But until then Mrs Nightingale is determined that she will fight for the return of her husband with dedication equal to his as her fought for his country: “All I want now is justice for my husband and a future for my family and I will not stop fighting until we get it.”

SAS veterans ask PM to intervene over "monstrous" jailing of war hero

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.

Sgt Danny Nightingale, a special forces sniper who served in Iraq and Afghanistan Photo: WARREN SMITH

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.

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."

A Downing Street spokesman added: “The Prime Minister is aware of the case and will respond in due course.”

This is what happens when you dedicate your life to your country. Its not that this country is not worth fighting for. Its a case that the people in power, those that take the responsabilty for running a country, on the freedom people like Sgt Nightingale ensure for the rest of us,are self rightous no bodys.

They are actively seeking to destroy this country. Why else would you treat our sevicemen like this. The case is well known, the man is a hero, not some gun totting gangster. The judge's should be sacked for incompetence, and Sgt Nightingale given a full apology. How did this case ever get to this in the first place. Is there no common sense left in the world.

And as for Cameron being aware of this case. Whats he gonna do. the mans a disaster.  If he's aware of the case, why hasn't he ordered Sgt Nightingale be released pending further investigation. Something he can order because it was a court martial and he is in millitary detention.

Everytime the public hears this sort of case, they are just a little more aggrieved. I'm not sure if thats what the govenment is trying to achieve, but when you see Abu Qatada walking free, and our sevice men being treated like common crooks, you have to wonder who's side our politicians are on.   


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Most Western societies are based on Secular Democracy, which itself is based on the concept that the open marketplace of ideas leads to the optimum government. Whilst that model has been very successful, it has defects. The 4 Freedoms address 4 of the principal vulnerabilities, and gives corrections to them. 

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