Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Royal Marine who shot injured Taliban fighter must wait for appeal result

A Royal Marine who shot an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan must wait to hear the result of an appeal against his murder conviction.

On Wednesday, the Court Martial Appeal Court in London said it would "take time" to consider its decision in the case of Sergeant Alexander Blackman.

One of the grounds of appeal is that fresh psychiatric evidence would have provided him with a diminished responsibility defence.

Five judges, headed by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, have been urged to overturn the conviction on the basis of "uncontradicted" evidence from three distinguished psychiatrists that he was suffering from a mental illness - an adjustment disorder - at the time of the killing.

Blackman, 42, from Taunton in Somerset, watched from prison by video link as Jonathan Goldberg QC argued that the conviction was "inevitably not safe".

Richard Whittam QC, for the Crown, said there was no evidence to the contrary about Blackman having an adjustment disorder but the issue was "did it cause what happened".

"One has to assess the breadth of the disorder and the effect it was having."

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.

The judges have heard that at the time of the 2011 incident, Blackman was serving with Plymouth-based 42 Commando in Helmand province in "ghastly" conditions which were a "breeding ground" for mental health problems.

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.

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 was referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), an independent body that investigates possible miscarriages of justice.

The court has heard that Blackman was living in an austere 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 family history of depression, an earlier near-fatal grenade attack and the death of a colleague he had mentored.

Mr Goldberg said that Blackman, a reserved "John Wayne character", was "burnt out".

His disorder substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgment or exercise self-control and this would have affected his ability to know whether the insurgent was alive or not.

Mr Whittam said the court would have to consider the case in the context of the video evidence.

Two clips 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.

Mr Goldberg said: "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."

Mr Whittam said it was not "for a moment" challenged that Afghanistan presented an at times brutal operational environment but the clips showed no evidence of the symptoms of an adjustment disorder.

"On the contrary it is plain from the video footage that the appellant, at the precise time of the killing, retained a sophisticated ability to plan ahead; an awareness of his circumstances; a real concern for his own protection and career to avoid detection; and a considered and deliberate approach to executing the suspected insurgent."


From Belfast Telegraph