The wife of a Royal Marine jailed for murder after shooting a wounded Taliban fighter said she hopes new evidence will lead to his case being sent back to the court of appeal.
Claire Blackman, 44, was speaking at a rally in Birmingham, where the offices are based. Organisers estimated that about 200 people – mainly veterans – gathered in Birmingham’s Eastside park, in a public show of support for Sgt Alexander Blackman. The author Frederick Forsyth, a vocal supporter of the marine, was among those present.
“It’s a strong application. There are a considerable number of new points of evidence or evidence of flaws in the original case, so we’re cautiously optimistic,” Claire Blackman said.
Her husband was of murdering an Afghan man in Helmand in 2011, by firing a pistol into his chest as he lay helpless after being wounded by helicopter fire. The incident was recorded by chance on a head camera worn by another marine, on his patrol. Blackman was seen telling his victim: “Shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”
During his court martial in Wiltshire, Blackman said he had believed the man was already dead when he opened fire, and he had fired in frustration towards the end of a hard tour during which close colleagues had been killed. But the board that heard the case jailed him for life in a civilian prison and ordered his dismissal from the armed forces.
The judge advocate general, Jeff Blackett, said Blackman had to be dealt with severely to show the international community that battlefield crimes committed by British troops would not be tolerated. As soon as he was sentenced, Blackman’s wife said it was too severe and she highlighted the mental tension he had been under during the tour. She said he had opened fire in a moment of madness.
Asked on Wednesday whether the case had become a political issue, Claire Blackman said: “We are only asking for the justice system to give us a fair and open hearing.” On her husband’s state of mind, she said: “He’s good, he’s well … we’re hopeful and we’re positive and we’re just keeping everything crossed.”
Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour, a retired Royal Marine, told the gathering he had once put a dying colleague “to sleep”. He said: “Before the era of political correctness, the prosecuting authorities had more sense than to bring murder charges, but that is another debate.
“And I have to say I once faced a similar situation during the Dhofar rebellion in the 1960s, when I put my dying sergeant major – a Muslim – to sleep with an overdose of morphine. Then, thank goodness, there was no judge advocate general to rip my character to pieces, as he did with Al’s.”
Southby-Tailyour said the new material in the case included a report from a pathologist that argued Blackman would not have known if the injured insurgent was still alive at the time. “The new legal team has obtained a report from one of the best pathologists in the country, who has reviewed the film and gives his medical reasons why the insurgent would have appeared dead to the layman,” he said.
The new legal arguments also question why the alternative of manslaughter was not considered by the original court martial. “Four times Al said in evidence that he had lost control and that he regretted it and on that evidence alone the judge had the duty to offer this lesser offence, that of manslaughter, to the panel, and advocates for both sides, defence and prosecution, should have reminded him [the judge], but it was never mentioned by anyone,” Southby-Tailyour said.
Another former marine, Terry Dunkin, said he believed Blackman had “lost it” under the psychological burden of combat trauma. The 70-year-old, who lost a leg on campaign in Aden in 1964, said: “He’s got, in my eyes, traumatic stress. He’s been in so much action that he just turned around and lost it and pulled the trigger.”
In recent months the Daily Mail has launched a Mail readers raised more than £800,000 to pay for a new legal team. This team produced the seven-volume report that petitions the CCRC to send the case back to the court of appeal.
The main basis is understood to be that the lesser verdict of manslaughter was not offered by the judge to the panel at the original court martial. The new team argues there was a wealth of evidence to show Blackman was suffering from a combat stress disorder. The case has already been subject to one appeal. In May 2014, Blackman asked three of the country’s most senior judges .
Sitting at a court martial appeal court in London, the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice Hallett reduced the length of time Blackman must serve before being considered for parole from 10 years to eight. But they rejected the appeal against his conviction.