Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marine sergeant convicted of killing a wounded Taliban fighter, has been enjoying his first hours of freedom but has made it clear he understands his sentence is not complete and has promised to fulfil the conditions of his early release.
Blackman after serving half of the seven-year term imposed for manslaughter and was whisked away to a luxury country hideaway arranged by the Daily Mail, which backed his legal fight.
He told the tabloid: “Being out of prison is an immense feeling but I am very conscious that my sentence is not complete. I have been released on licence and there are certain conditions which I must – and will – respect.
“But it is the little things I can enjoy. Suddenly I can sleep when I want, eat when I want, go for a walk ... this freedom of choice over basic things is going to take some getting used to.”
Typically prisoners on licence have to stay in close touch with a supervisor, seek permission before travelling out of the UK and get approval for any work they take on. Misbehaviour can result in a return to jail.
Blackman described his wife, who led the campaign to free him, as a “wife in a million”. He said: “I will be eternally grateful to Claire and I cannot put into words how wonderful she is.
“Other inmates often said how lucky I was to have her fighting so hard for me. I don’t think there is anybody who has witnessed the effort she has gone to who will doubt how she feels about me, and that’s beyond words really. You just can’t imagine anyone cares for you that much.”
Claire Blackman told the Mail she had felt a “surge of happiness” when her husband arrived at the country bolthole, describing their reunion as “like a dream”.
“We have spent so long on this rollercoaster ride and have always steeled ourselves for the worst-case scenario,” she said. “Now we have got Al out, the result we always hoped for, it is taking time to sink in.”
Blackman was convicted in 2013 of murdering a Taliban prisoner while on tour in Helmand province in Afghanistan, and jailed for life. had been suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the shooting in 2011.
His conviction was replaced with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and his sentence reduced from life to seven years.
He was smuggled out of prison in Wiltshire in the early hours of Friday and was taken to a rural hideaway, where according to the Mail, he was treated to Hungarian goose-down duvets, roaring fires and roll-top baths.
He has been offered a job by the former marine John Davies, who also campaigned for Blackman to be freed, as an instructor in his maritime training business.
The Guardian has also learned that Blackman has enjoyed writing while in prison and may try to get a children’s story about a cuddly mole published.
According to his lawyer, Jonathan Goldberg QC, there is also interest from Hollywood in making a film of the saga.
Blackman is still entitled to a military pension and supporters have raised money to help him and his wife set themselves up.
The documentary-maker and honorary marine Chris Terrill, who has become close to the Blackmans, said he believed there would be a tricky transition period for the marine.
He said: “It is going to be a difficult transition. Al hasn’t been a civilian for many years.” Terrill also said there would also be a time of readjustment for husband and wife. “I was joking with Claire that they’ll have to work out who is going to control the television zapper.”
He said the idea of a Hollywood film with a star-studded cast was fanciful. “This is not the time to be talking about Hollywood blockbusters,” he said. “It’s a great time for the Blackmans, but it’s a very serious time, too.”
Terrill said it was worth remembering the man Blackman had killed. “He was someone’s son, brother, possibly husband.”
Life will never be the same for the Blackmans. The Guardian revealed last month that police had warned them they could be terrorist targets and they have been advised to take a series of precautions including changing their identities and moving house.
Supporters across the country will celebrate Blackman’s release this bank holiday weekend.