The is resisting an attempt by the Guardian and other media organisations to persuade a court to release video footage showing an incident in which a British Royal Marine shot dead a wounded Taliban fighter.
Alexander Blackman is serving life for the murder of the injured man but his case . An appeal hearing is due to take place next month.
At the centre of the original court martial in 2013 was footage taken from another marine’s head-cam that showed the incident, which took place in Helmand six years ago.
Still images and audio were released at the time but the MoD successfully argued that publication of the full video would be a propaganda gift to terrorists who wished to harm the UK.
Media organisations including the Guardian are arguing that in the interest of open justice the video should finally be released, but at a hearing on Wednesday, the MoD and Blackman’s legal team said they opposed such a move.
Shortly before the court was due to sit to hear the media’s application, a one-page risk assessment drawn up by the Research Information and Communications Unit, together with a three-page annex, was handed in by the MoD’s legal team. RICU is a cross-departmental strategic communications body based at the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism at the Home Office.
Also handed in was a threat assessment by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre that was prepared for the 2013 case. It looked at the threat posed to Blackman and two other marines who were with him that day.
Marine's conviction for killing Afghan insurgent could be quashed
Oliver Glasgow, for the MoD, gave an “unreserved apology” that the documents were only provided shortly before the hearing.
He said: “It should not have happened. I don’t seek to excuse the actions of the ministry. There appears to have been a degree of confusion.” He said the MoD did not realise that a full hearing on the release of the video was due to take place on Wednesday.
The lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said he and his two fellow judges were “very annoyed” and said the hearing would have to be adjourned to give the media time to look at the reports.
Jonathan Goldberg QC, for Blackman, said he also opposed the release of the video. Goldberg said Blackman’s wife, Claire, was “frightened” of the consequences of it being published.
The video shows marines dragging a wounded insurgent across a field and abusing him before Blackman shoots him in the chest. He can be heard telling the man: “Shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt,” and instructing his fellow marines: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas … I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention.”
At the start of the court martial in 2013, the prosecution said it had no objection to releasing the video – with the faces of the defendants and the victim pixellated. But the government stepped in, sending a Home Office expert to argue that the video must not be released.
Paul Mott, the deputy head of RICU, said then it was the most potent footage of its kind he had viewed. “I’ve seen nothing that surpasses it in terms of radicalisation potential. It’s exceptionally worrying,” said Mott. “There’s nothing I have seen that … matches its emotional power. It is a gift in propaganda terms.”
Marine faces life term after being found guilty of 'executing' Afghan insurgent
The judge advocate general, Jeff Blackett, would “generate significant feelings of anger and revenge among certain people and will incite attacks on British service personnel at home and abroad”.
In the lord chief justice said: “Some three years have elapsed since the judge advocate general made his decision and this court affirmed that decision. It is possible that the evidential position may have changed … the matter must then be fully argued prior to the hearing of the appeal.”
The Guardian, BBC, ITN, Times Newspapers and British Sky Broadcasting are asking for the video to be released. A barrister for the Daily Mail, which has campaigned for Blackman to be freed, said the newspaper was “neutral” on the issue. The full hearing on the release of the video is due to take place at a later date but before the appeal.
Blackman, 42, was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 10 years, which was later reduced to eight years on appeal. He remains in prison and watched Wednesday’s proceedings via a video link.
The CCRC has said it had concluded that a number of new issues, including fresh evidence relating to Blackman’s mental state, “raise a real possibility” that the court martial appeal court “will now quash Mr Blackman’s murder conviction”.