UK
25/07/2013 12:26 BST

Danny Nightingale Case: Ex-SAS Sniper Given Suspended Sentence

Former SAS sniper Sergeant Danny Nightingale has been given a suspended sentence after being convicted for a second time for the possession of a pistol and ammunition while his family said they would take time to consider what they would do next to quash his conviction.

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SAS sniper, Danny Nightingale and wife Sally leave his court martial

The senior NCO walked from court a free man but, along with his wife Sally and father Humphrey, he also left with a stinging rebuke from the judge who described their 22-month campaign to clear his name as misleading and uninformed and said any notion the special forces soldier was a scapegoat was "absolute nonsense".

The family said they would now take time to reflect on whether there will be a further appeal in the fight, which has already cost the family £120,000 and put great strain on the couple, who have two children.

Speaking outside the Military Court in Bulford, Wiltshire, Mrs Nightingale said: "We are very disappointed with the sentence yet we are pleased that Danny will be coming home tonight.

"Obviously the judge has his own opinion. I don't agree with what was said. I feel quite upset that it's been suggested that we misled people because that's one thing we have not done - we've been very honest and open.

"He (Danny) is feeling angry about the words used in court against his family and the people who have supported him."

Mrs Nightingale claimed her husband was forbidden from speaking to the media by the army, but offered thanks on his behalf to those who have supported him.

She insisted the soldier did not regret his two-year fight but was unable to say whether the family could afford to continue the legal process.

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Sally Nightingale speaks as they leave court following verdict

"Nobody wants to go through what we've been through," she added.

"I could never have imagined myself in this position. But we've done it for the right reasons and we have been true to ourselves so I have no regrets."

The soldier's father, Mr Nightingale, added that the remarks by Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett were "a kick in the teeth to every single one of us".

The 38-year-old from Crewe in Cheshire was originally jailed for 18 months last year for the offences but had his sentence cut and then quashed by the Court of Appeal after an outcry over his treatment spearheaded by his family in the media.

Nightingale was found guilty of having a 9mm Glock pistol and 338 rounds of ammunition in the bedroom of his shared army house. He said that he had no knowledge of the weapon and suggested it had been put there by someone else - a friend and fellow SAS soldier known only as soldier N.

At his sentencing hearing, he was given two years military detention suspended for 12 months.

Passing sentence, Judge Blackett had strong words for those he felt had criticised the army and misled the debate about the case.

"While this case proceeded many people including you (Nightingale) have made numerous public statements, many of which were misleading. As a result there has been much uninformed and misinformed public debate. Much of what has been said bordered on contempt and has not helped the course of justice."

The judge said that Nightingale had "made up a spurious defence which falsely impugned the character of a fellow soldier and caused a number of SAS soldiers to risk their own security in giving evidence.

He added: "I trust that those who have been so critical of the service prosecuting authority and the court martial process - particularly those who made unfounded and uninformed remarks under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege - now realise how inappropriate and wrong their criticisms were."

The gun was originally said to have been brought back from Iraq and was recovered by civilian police in September 2011 in the rented house Nightingale then shared with Soldier N.

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

Nightingale claimed he had no knowledge of them being in his bedroom.

Previously he had said the gun had been brought back from Iraq and it was a gift from Iraqis he had trained. The court heard he received a head injury during an endurance marathon in 2009 that affected his memory and that had caused confusion called confabulation where someone fabricates, distorts or misinterprets memories about incidents.

But the judge said the court did not accept he had confabulated about the weapon and ammunition.

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Prosecutor, Colonel Charles Barnett lead the case against Nightingale

He told Nightingale, who wore uniform in the courtroom, that his stories about how the gun came to be in his room "lacked credibility".

But he said there were "exceptional circumstances" that allowed the court to suspend the sentence "because of your exceptional character" and that he was not a danger to society.

"We understand how difficult these proceedings have been for you and your family. However, you have brought much of that anguish upon yourself and your public assertions that you are a scapegoat or the victim of some wider political agenda is absolute nonsense," he said.

"You are simply someone against whom there was a strong prima facie case of serious wrongdoing and, given the dangers to society caused by illegal firearms and their misuse, it was in the public interest to prosecute you.

"You have now had a fair trial before a civilian judge and an independent and impartial board.

"All of the issues you wished to raise and all the submissions you wished to make have been fully considered and verdicts properly given.

"It would have made no difference had you been tried before a civilian jury - the evidence against you was overwhelming - and I have no doubt the verdicts would have been the same."

Judge Blackett, who sat with a five-person board, said that if it was not for the Court of Appeal's previous decisions, Nightingale would be going to prison.

"In our opinion, the seriousness of this case does merit an immediate custodial sentence but we feel constrained by the decision of their Lordships. In those circumstances, we have decided that the sentences passed should both be suspended for a period of 12 months."

The soldier, who served in the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan in an 18-year career, has received a medical discharge which will commence on February 14 next year. Until then he remains in the army.

He had pleaded not guilty to possession of a prohibited firearm between November 26 2007, and September 16 2011, and had also denied possession of the ammunition on or about September 16 2011.