Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Hung Out To Dry
Sally Nightingale (pictured above with her husband Danny) is a woman of courage. It takes courage for any military wife to speak publicly about internal military affairs and she will know the consequences can make her family's life very difficult, but the woman has little to lose. The story of how her husband ended up in front of a court martial is here.
Her husband, an SAS soldier with 17 years service - 11 of them in the SAS - has been found guilty, by court martial, of possessing a firearm and sentenced to 18 months in the Military Corrective Centre in Colchester. He will be discharged on completion of his sentence and have a criminal record. The Army has stopped his pay.
Sgt Nightingale's was charged with illegal possession of a hand gun and that is illegal in Britain, though whether a five-year mandatory sentence is appropriate in all circumstances is doubtful. He was advised that if he pleaded not guilty he risked a five-year sentence, so he took the judge's promise of leniency at face value and reluctantly pleaded guilty.
When I first read the article, I wondered if it was usual for civilian police to do a thorough search of a home when called to a domestic complaint? As far as I understand that is not usual procedure, so why did it happen in this case? There's little love lost between the police service and the military, so perhaps the police were trying to prove to the military personnel involved that they are super-efficient. That's the only reason that springs to mind.
Sgt Nightingale's military record, until this incident, has been exemplary. As well as being a trained sniper, he is a qualified mic who designed a new field dressing, which is now used by the SAS, the American Delta Force and Britain's Ambulance Service.
I've witnessed how cruelly the Army can behave when they want to wash their hands of a member of the military although I can't understand why this case, handed over to military police by the civilian police, reached a court of any kind. The facts speak for themselves. Sgt Nightingale's Commanding Officer has spoken out and told the Telegraph "the sentence clearly needed to be overturned immediately." Indeed it does and his CO should take some responsibility, given the circumstances, for not dealing with the issue in house, particularly given the clear evidence. How did this incident get this far?
Judge Advocates, who pass judgements at court martials, are civilian lawyers, usually QCs. Their judgements vary as much as they do in civilian courts and in general military sentencing guidelines follow those in civilian courts. The Judge Advocate in this case, Alistair McGrigor, has dealt with other court martials and it seems has stuck to the guidelines regardless of the firm evidence of Sgt Nightingale's medical problem.
Newark Tory MP Patrick Mercer has condemned the sentence as a 'gross miscarriage of justice' and plans to raise the matter with Defence Secretary Simon McKay. He should also raise it at FMQ's this week and bring it to the attention of all MPs. Colonel (ret'd) Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham is now on the case too because he considers it should have been dealt with by the CO.
Sgt and Mrs Nightingale need all the assistance they can muster to battle against this conviction and it's incredible that anyone can look at the case and imagine justice has been done. The conviction os this man may well be legal but I think it immoral.
I wish them well.