UK
10/07/2013 22:05 BST | Updated 09/09/2013 10:12 BST

Danny Nightingale, Former SAS Sniper Guilty Of Possessing Pistol, Has 'No Regrets' In Fighting Case

PA
Sergeant Danny Nightingale with wife Sally

An SAS sniper who could be jailed after being convicted of possessing a pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunition said he had no regrets in fighting the case. Sergeant Danny Nightingale, 38, was found guilty of two charges of possessing a Glock 9mm and 338 rounds by a court martial board.

Sentencing was adjourned but Sgt Nightingale could now be sent to the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, Essex. Sgt Nightingale had originally pleaded guilty to the two charges last year and was sentenced to 18 months' military detention.

The father of two, from Crewe, Cheshire, appealed against that sentence and it was reduced to 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for a year.

He then fought to overturn his convictions and won a fresh court martial, which today found him guilty after four hours of deliberations. "I never regret fighting it, no. No, not for one second," Sgt Nightingale said after being released on bail.

He said the last two years were "shocking" and described his position as "David versus Goliath" but did think he would be cleared.

"I believed so, the family believed so, the team believed so. Yes, it came as a great shock," he said. "If I did not have such a strong family I'd be broken."

Sgt Nightingale said he would be taking advice on whether he could appeal but said his family was facing financial ruin because of the legal costs.

"The big struggle we have got is that it is hugely financial, it is debilitating for us - it is crippling the family," he said.

"We have to look at whether we can keep going but I am very lucky. Sally has been amazing throughout, as have the rest of the family."

Sgt Nightingale, who is to be medically discharged after an 18-year military career, including 12 years in the SAS, also thanked the public for their backing and said "99.99% have supported us".

Mrs Nightingale, who was tightly holding her husband's hand, said she was standing by him.

"He isn't guilty and he is not a criminal," she maintained.

"He never brought a weapon into the country, he never had a weapon in his possession.

"We know the truth, the family know the truth and we know most of the public know the truth and unfortunately we have not got the result we should have got.

"No matter what was said in that court, I live with him and he still confabulates and he still struggles with his brain injury on a day to day basis."

The week-long trial at the court martial centre in Bulford, Wiltshire, heard that civilian police discovered the haul in September 2011 at the rented house the father of two shared with another SAS soldier, known only as Soldier N.

Police were acting on a tip-off from Soldier N's estranged wife who said there might be a gun stored at the three-bedroom house.

The pistol was found in Sgt Nightingale's wardrobe and the ammunition was under his bed in a plastic box.

Sgt Nightingale, who was serving in Afghanistan at the time, said he had no knowledge of them being in his bedroom and said someone else had put them there.

"I have physical or tangible memory. I have no recollection of receiving the gun," he told the court martial.

He said he was a "diligent" soldier who would not have "randomly" stored ammunition at home.

The Crown said Sgt Nightingale had put the public at risk by having the lethal arsenal stored in an insecure house.

Prosecutor Timothy Cray told the five-person board: "No soldier, no matter what his experience is or what unit he is attached to, is above the law.

"No matter how he tries to deny it, the gun and ammunition were there in his bedroom because he put them there and he kept them there."

Mr Cray accused the special forces soldier of changing his story after originally telling police the pistol was a "trophy" brought back from Iraq in 2007 and that he had accumulated the ammunition from training sessions in the UK.

But Sgt Nightingale insisted his confusion followed a serious illness he suffered while taking part in an endurance event in Brazil in 2009, which had significantly affected his memory.

He said that his confession to police in 2011 was false because he was "confabulating" - meaning he was filling in gaps in his memory based on what other people had told him and may have latched onto his housemate's own account of possessing a pistol and ammunition. Medical experts have disagreed on whether this was the case.

William Clegg QC, defending, suggested Soldier N - Sgt Nightingale's former best friend - had brought the Glock pistol to the UK from Iraq.

Soldier N was sentenced to two years' military detention last year after admitting possessing a Glock 9mm pistol, which he brought back from Iraq in 2003.

He also pleaded guilty to possessing ammunition that was recovered by police at the house he shared with Sgt Nightingale.

Mr Clegg said Soldier N had good reason to disassociate himself from the second pistol as having two would have looked like he was collecting them.

He said the prosecution case was built upon a coincidence in that two identical pistols manufactured in Austria and issued to the Iraqi security forces by the US in 2003 had ended up in the same house eight years later.

"If you have got two guns making separate and independent journeys halfway across the globe, three years apart from the same source, you might think it is the most remarkable coincidence," he said.

During the trial several members of the SAS gave evidence anonymously - with the press and public able to hear their evidence from an annexe.

One serviceman said the storing of weapons in accommodation was a "gross breach" of Army regulations, while Soldier N said bringing back trophies from overseas operations was "part of the course".

"You go on operations, you want to bring back a trophy, as our grandfathers did in the war," Soldier N said.

"To bring back a trophy of some sort is kind of semi-okay."

He also described the procedures for checking military equipment coming back into the UK from abroad before a crackdown in 2004 as "reasonably relaxed".

Sgt Nightingale had pleaded not guilty to possession of a prohibited firearm between November 26, 2007 and September 16, 2011.

He also denied possession on or about September 16, 2011 of ammunition, namely 122 9mm live rounds, 40 7.62mm live rounds, 50 9mm frangible rounds, 50 .338 armour piercing live rounds, two .308 live rounds and 74 5.56mm live rounds.

Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett said he would be adjourning sentence until the Court of Appeal had ruled on the court martial board's sentencing powers - whether they could impose a sentence greater than the one imposed by the court martial appeal board last year.

Possession of a prohibited firearm carries a five-year minimum term of imprisonment, unless there are "exceptional circumstances".