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Marine who shot injured Afghan fighter 'was suffering recognised mental illness'

A Royal Marine was suffering from a recognised mental illness when he shot an injured Afghan fighter, the Court Martial Appeal Court has heard.

Sergeant Alexander Blackman, from Taunton in Somerset, is battling to overturn his murder conviction.

One of the grounds of appeal is that fresh psychiatr ic evidence would have provided him with the "partial defence of diminished responsibility".

On Tuesday Blackman, 42, watched from prison by videolink as Jonathan Goldberg QC said that a t the time of the 2011 incident he was serving with Plymouth-based 42 Commando in Helmand province in conditions which were a "breeding ground" for mental health problems.

There were shooting incidents on an almost daily basis, Blackman was almost killed in a grenade attack and he had endured the loss of a young officer he had mentored.

Mr Goldberg said three experts agreed that at the time of the killing, Blackman, a very reserved man like a "John Wayne character", was suffering from an adjustment disorder, which substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgment or exercise self-control.

This would have affected his ability to know whether the insurgent was alive or not.

He said: "This was a superb soldier. He had been described so in report after report.

"The doctors are saying that if a man like that behaves in a way like this, you have to wonder if something wrong was going on in his head, and here the evidence indicates it was."

Professor Neil Greenberg told the court that everybody had their "breaking point".

"There is no such thing as a Rambo type, an Arnold Schwarzenegger soldier, who can face all sorts of stresses and appear to be invulnerable.

"That sort of person only exists in the cinema."

Blackman shot the insurgent, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol before quoting a phrase from Shakespeare as the man convulsed and died in front of him.

He told 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 shooting was captured on a camera mounted on the helmet of another Royal Marine.

Blackman was convicted in November 2013 by a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 10 years.

In May 2014, the Court Martial Appeal Court rejected a conviction challenge, but reduced the minimum term to eight years because of the combat stress disorder he was suffering from.

During his trial, Blackman, who denied murder and was known at that stage as Marine A, said he believed the victim was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.

He was ''dismissed with disgrace'' from the Royal Marines after serving with distinction for 15 years, including tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

Blackman's case, which has been referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), i s being heard by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson, Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Sweeney.

Richard Whittam QC, for the Crown, said that the mere fact of an adjustment disorder did not get one "through the door" of diminished responsibility.

Even if there was evidence to show that a mental condition must have caused or been a significant contributing factor in the killing, the court would have to consider the video evidence.

"It is in that context these things will have to be considered. It is in the context of this appellant."

Two clips were played in court which showed the bloodied insurgent being dragged across a field to an area of corn, and later being shot.

In the earlier clip, Blackman is heard asking: "Anyone want to do first aid on this idiot?"

Another marine says: "I'll put one in his head if you want."

Blackman replies: "No, not in his head 'cause that'll be f****** obvious."

In the second clip he is heard asking where the helicopter is. He is told by another soldier that it "went south, mate".

The insurgent is then seen being shot in the chest and convulsing.

Professor Greenberg said that, assuming that the video showed elements of planning and deliberation, it was completely consistent with an adjustment disorder.

Blackman was living in an overlooked camp in 122F (50C) heat with no running water, no cooking facilities or refrigerator and basic toilet facilities.

The key "stressors" were his perception of poor leadership above him, isolation, a predisposition, a family history of depression and the earlier grenade attack and colleague's death.

H e echoed the view of another expert that at the time of the killing Blackman was "burnt out".

He said: "Someone who has got to the point where they are not thinking of what they are doing.

"Just thinking of existing and getting through rather than thinking of being a Marine doing a professional job.

"To have professional standards is a core commando quality. Commandos would want to go into a combat situation thinking they could save the world and come back a hero. That's their mindset.

"There is no doubt on that video that is not the sort of leadership and qualities he showed.

"It is clear to me that the symptoms of his adjustment disorder had led him to the point where he was in survival - he had to get his team through the next few weeks and get home.

"He didn't care, he was numb to the kind of emotions and difficulties he encountered."

Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Philip Joseph said that Blackman had an adjustment disorder of moderate severity.

The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday after the court watched a video taken from a Channel Five series which showed life in a compound three miles away from where Blackman was posted.


From Belfast Telegraph