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SAS hero walks free… and thanks the Press: Sniper jailed for 'illegally possessing' Iraqi gift pistol has his sentence quashed
Sgt Danny Nightingale was being held in Colchester after admitting illegally possessing a Glock 9mm pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunitionSniper told a court martial earlier the pistol was a gift from Iraqi soldiers
Appeal judges today suspended his sentence, allowing the soldier to go freeWife Sally Nightingale, who has campaigned for his release, wept at verdict
Release came as Leveson report called for draconian controls on Press
22:51 GMT, 29 November 2012
An SAS hero jailed for keeping an Iraqi pistol as a war trophy thanked the Press yesterday for helping secure his freedom.
Danny Nightingale’s 18-month prison sentence was quashed by senior judges following a three-week newspaper campaign.
He will now be able to spend Christmas with his young family.
Relief: SAS soldier Danny Nightingale is seen kissing his wife Sally outside the Royal Courts of Justice where judges agreed to suspend his sentence
Freed: Sergeant Danny Nightingale and his wife Sally Nightingale, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London
Vindicated: Sgt Nightingale had been sentenced to 18 months' military detention after admitting illegally possessing a pistol and ammunition – gifts from Iraqi soldiers he had helped to train
The sniper’s release yesterday came as Lord Justice Leveson published a
report calling for draconian controls on the Press.
Nightingale, who has served with valour in Iraq and Afghanistan, said:
‘For the media support that has been out there, thank you people.’
The Daily Mail had kept up the pressure with a series of stories including an interview with his wife Sally, 38.
She described him as a ‘hero who had been betrayed’ and a father reduced
to a voice on the phone for their daughters, five-year-old Mara and
Mrs Nightingale, who raised 100,000 to fund a legal battle to free her
husband, said: ‘I’m very, very happy. We have fought for this and now we
have got justice.
‘I did not dare to dream that this would be the outcome. It will be brilliant to have him home. It can only be good for all the troops out there fighting for our country to see justice has been done.’
Describing him as an exemplary soldier, Appeal Court judges cut Sgt
Nightingale’s prison term to a 12-month suspended sentence – allowing
the 37-year-old to immediately return home to Crewe.
He was reunited with his wife in emotional scenes at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London.
‘I need to say thank you so much to my wife, family and friends for
their trust and support. They have been amazingly courageous and
dignified in all they have done,’ he said.
‘The great British public and people around the world have been
absolutely wonderful in their support. It has been extremely humbling.’
The judges also granted the non-commissioned officer permission to appeal against his conviction.
Former SAS soldier Danny Nightingale speaks to the media after his release
The SAS sniper walked from the Court of Appeal after having had his sentence for possessing a pistol suspended
Sgt Nightingale was sent to a military prison in Colchester three weeks
ago after pleading guilty to possessing a working 9mm Glock pistol and
more than 300 rounds of ammunition at his home.
The sentence sparked a national outcry. David Cameron said he was
‘sympathetic’ to the Nightingale family and a protest petition attracted
Three judges – the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, Mr Justice Fulford
and Mr Justice Bean – heard the appeal and ruled that the offences were
‘committed in exceptional circumstances by an exceptional officer’.
They were told the 9mm Glock was a souvenir from Iraqi soldiers Sgt Nightingale helped train in 2007.
But during his tour of duty he was ordered to fly home urgently with the bodies of two fallen comrades.
His belongings in Iraq – including the firearm – were packed by
colleagues and sent back separately to Britain, first to SAS
headquarters and then to a home he rented with other soldiers.
Sgt Nightingale intended to pass the gun to his regiment to be decommissioned and displayed as a war trophy.
But he forgot he had the weapon and ammunition after suffering
‘significant’ brain damage that affected his memory when he collapsed on
a 220-mile charity trek in the Brazilian jungle.
SAS soldier Sgt Danny Nightingale, left, and with his wife Sally at a Christmas ball in 2010, right
Sally Nightingale, wife of soldier Danny Nightingale, outside the Royal Courts of Justice before handing in a petition for his release
He amazed medics by not only surviving but returning to fitness so he
could deploy on operations. The Glock and ammunition were found when
police raided his rented home in Hereford last year following a dispute
between his SAS housemate and his estranged wife.
Sgt Nightingale, who was serving with special forces in Afghanistan at the time, said he did not remember having the weapon.
He pleaded guilty to two charges at the court martial on November 6 and
was sent to the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester.
His lawyers yesterday argued that he was pressured into pleading guilty
to possessing the gun and ammunition with the trial judge suggesting he
would receive five years in a civilian jail if he fought the case.
William Craig QC, for Sgt Nightingale, said: ‘No defendant should be
told that and no judge should indicate that to a defendant. He failed
comprehensively to follow [legal] guidance.’
(File picture) Sergeant Danny Nightingale, who was sentenced to 18 months' military detention after he admitted illegally possessing a Glock 9mm pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunition
Lieutenant Colonal Richard Williams, Sgt Nightingale’s former commanding
officer, told the Appeal Court the sniper had ‘saved many lives’ by
inventing a new bandage to treat gunshot wounds.
Tory MP Julian Brazier who raised Sgt Nightingale’s plight in
Parliament, said: ‘The original sentence was a serious miscarriage of
‘I am delighted that Danny will be going home to his family for Christmas.’
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘The justice system has worked.
‘I was pleased that an appeal was heard quickly and it is right that a
court should decide on whether the sentence was appropriate.
‘The Court of Appeal has decided the sentence was too harsh and has freed him.’
Sally Nightingale said: 'The public interest has just overwhelmed us'
Jailed SAS soldier Danny Nightingale's wife, Sally Nightingale, stands with his father, Humphrey Nightingale, as they arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday