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Acquitted Royal Marines named

Two Royal Marines who were acquitted of the murder of an injured insurgent in Afghanistan can be named for the first time today as Corporal Christopher Glyn Watson and Marine Jack Alexander Hammond.

The release of their identities follows a ruling earlier this month by judges at the High Court in London.

It was confirmed by the High Court today that an anonymity order preventing publication of their names has been lifted.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, sitting with Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mr Justice Holroyde, announced on December 5 that an anonymity order should be lifted in the case of Sergeant Alexander Wayne Blackman, who was convicted of murder, and also in relation to the two acquitted servicemen.

Sergeant Blackman, who is now serving a life sentence, was previously referred to as Marine A, while the acquitted men were known as Marines B and C.

Although the three judges said the names of Marines B and C should also be made public, their identities were not immediately revealed pending a possible move by their lawyers to take the issue to the Supreme Court, the UK's highest court.

But the High Court confirmed that no application relating to the Supreme Court had been made within the set deadline and therefore the order preventing publication of their names had been discharged.

Corporal Watson was previously known as Marine B and Marine Hammond as Marine C.

On November 8 a court martial board in Bulford, Wiltshire found 39-year-old Blackman guilty of murdering the insurgent who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter in Helmand more than two years ago.

Marines B and C were acquitted while charges against a further two servicemen were previously discontinued.

Following the conviction of Blackman - a hugely experienced Royal Marine who completed tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland during his military career - Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett ruled that the names of the three defendants and the two other servicemen should be made public.

Lawyers for the five challenged that decision at the High Court, arguing that their lives would be at "real and immediate" risk if their names are released.

The question of naming the two other Royal Marines, referred to as Marines D and E, against whom charges were discontinued, will be the subject of a further hearing and the ban on naming them remains in force pending any further order by the Judge Advocate General.

In a written ruling explaining the reasons for the court's December 5 decision, Lord Thomas emphasised the importance of open justice.

In the case of Sergeant Blackman, Lord Thomas said the balance came "very firmly down on the side of open justice" and in relation to Marines B and C, "the public interest in open justice" was the same, adding: "It can make no difference that B and C were acquitted."

In the cases of Marines B and C, Lord Thomas said: "The risk to these two Marines was not immediate. They have returned to service. The MoD has taken steps to protect them; arrangements have been made with the local police in respect of their families.

"There is nothing to suggest that this will not continue. In the circumstances, it would not be reasonable to make so substantial a derogation from open justice as to prohibit the identification of any of the defendants B and C.

"The risks to the Article 8 rights (right to respect for private and family life) are not, in this case, sufficient to outweigh the importance of open justice."

The court also had to bear in mind that orders prohibiting identification of the accused "carry dangers to third parties where, as here, there are other people with some innocent involvement in the events giving rise to the charges".

The judge said: "If the names of the accused are not known, attempts at revenge may be directed to others present at the same time as those whose names have been published."

Blackman, who denied murder, had 15 years' experience in the Royal Marines, having joined in 1998, and was in charge of Command Post Omar in Helmand during Operation Herrick 14 in 2011.

Before a video of the murder came to light, Blackman was being considered for promotion to Colour Sergeant.

He shot the unknown insurgent in the chest but said he believed the man was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse. He has said he feels ashamed at his actions, describing them as "a stupid lack of self-control and lapse in judgment".

As the fighter lies on the floor convulsing and struggling for breath, Sgt Blackman tells him: "There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil you c***. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us."

He then turned to his comrades and said: "Obviously this doesn't go anywhere fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention."

The three defendants were members of Plymouth-based 42 Commando. Marines A and C were members of Juliet Company's Fire Support Group, while Marine B was with Lima Company.

Marine B, now identified as Christopher Watson, 31, was an acting Lance Corporal at the time of the incident.

His grandfather was an RAF squadron leader and said his ambition ever since he was young was to "test myself to the highest level and achieve the green beret".

A well-spoken university graduate, he joined the Marines in 2008. He had studied Sports Science at the University of Derby and achieved a 2:2 degree.

Operation Herrick 14 was Marine B's first overseas deployment and he told the court martial that the conditions were horrific, with 50-degree heat and carrying minimum loads of 100lb (45kg) per man.

For most of his tour Marine B was based at a command post called Taalander, which was attacked every day by insurgents.

Three days before the incident he was transferred to Omar as a battlefield replacement, to be under the command of Marine A, Sgt Blackman. He said he did not know Marine A at all and had only spoken to Marine C during a week-long training course.

Marine B claimed he was "stunned" when Marine A opened fire. He was wearing the head camera that captured the footage at the centre of the case.

He had seen a colleague's leg hung in a tree as a trophy after a roadside bomb and had to clean up after another suffered fatal head injuries in a grenade attack.

Marine C has now been identified as Jack Hammond. In his mid-20s, he was the youngest of the three accused servicemen.

He was teased as the "pretty boy" of the group and, like Marine B, he was on his first overseas deployment.

He enlisted in the Royal Marines in 2009 and joined Juliet Company in May 2010 after completing his basic training. He had won the King's Badge for being the top recruit during training.

Marine C was usually "point man" while on patrol, operating the valon metal detector used to hunt for roadside bombs - a hugely pressurised job.

He was also a qualified sharpshooter and was based at CP Omar with the rest of Juliet Company.

Marine C was considered a joker whose quips were often close to the mark. He was keen for action when he went out to Afghanistan but jaded at the time of the incident and said he was in "constant fear" and just wanted to get back to the UK in one piece.

He was caught on video suggesting he shoot the prisoner in the head or the heart but said this was simply bravado.

Marine C kept a journal in which he also suggested he wanted to shoot the captive but said the journal was a way of letting off steam.


From Belfast Telegraph