Marine Alexander Blackman conviction reduced to manslaughter

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Image caption

Claire Blackman, pictured centre, led a campaign in support of her husband who was not in court to hear the decision

A Royal Marine, jailed for shooting an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, has had his murder conviction reduced to manslaughter by an appeal court.

Sgt Alexander Blackman, 42, from Taunton, Somerset, has already served three years of a life sentence.

Five judges at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London ruled the conviction should be “manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility”.

A further hearing will now decide what sentence Blackman should serve.

Blackman was not in court to hear the decision.

The marine had a recognised mental illness at the time of the shooting in 2011, the hearing had been told.

His defence team argued that fresh psychiatric evidence, if available at the time, would have provided him with the “partial defence of diminished responsibility”.

The panel of judges were urged to overturn the “unsafe” murder conviction.

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In Wednesday’s ruling, the judges said:

  • Blackman had been “an exemplary soldier before his deployment to Afghanistan in March 2011”
  • He had suffered from “quite exceptional stressors” which increasingly impacted on him the longer he was in command
  • It was “clear that a consequence was that he had developed a hatred for the Taliban and a desire for revenge”
  • At the time of the killing “the patrol remained under threat from other insurgents”
  • In concluding, they said the stressors and his adjustment disorder had been factors in “substantially” impairing his ability to form a rational judgment

Sgt Blackman’s wife, Claire was greeted by cheering supporters and honking taxi horns on the steps of the court before thanking the “tens of thousands of supporters, especially from the Royal Marines family, who have stood behind us throughout”.

Mrs Blackman, who led a campaign for justice alongside author Frederick Forsyth and the Daily Mail, said she was “delighted” with the ruling.

“This is a crucial decision and one which better reflects the circumstances my husband found himself in during that terrible tour in Afghanistan,” she said.

Blackman’s lawyer, Jonathan Goldberg, said Mrs Blackman and Mr Forsyth were the “the hero and the heroine of this occasion”.

Mr Forsyth “knew a miscarriage of justice when he smelt one”, and Mrs Blackman’s “indefatigable efforts” had kept the “flame alive” on behalf of her husband, he said.

‘Mortal coil’

In Afghanistan in 2011, Blackman shot an insurgent, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol.

Footage of the incident was captured on a camera mounted on the helmet of another Royal Marine.

A court martial heard that Blackman used abusive language and said: “There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil.”

He then turned to his comrades and said: “obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention”, it was alleged.

Media captionExtract from helmet camera audio recording of incident in Helmand

During his trial, Blackman, who denied murder, said he believed the victim was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.

Blackman was convicted of murder in November 2013 and jailed for life. He lost an appeal in May of the following year, but his 10-year minimum term was reduced to eight years.

The trial was the first time a member of the British armed forces had faced a murder charge in relation to the conflict in Afghanistan, which began in 2001.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We have fully co-operated with each stage of Sergeant Blackman’s case and will continue to provide personal support to the family, as we have done since charges were first brought.

“We respect the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on it.”

Panorama, Marine A: The Inside Story will be on BBC One at 22:45 GMT, and available later on iPlayer.

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