Saturday, September 12, 2015

Political blundering and corruption in Britain puts Marine in jail

Military chiefs are plotting to cover up a damning report that could help free a Royal Marine jailed for murder.

Evidence casting doubt on Sergeant Alexander Blackman’s conviction for killing a Taliban insurgent is to be ‘swept under the carpet’, the Mail can reveal.

His fight for justice was boosted by a huge wave of public support yesterday after we revealed that crucial facts were deliberately withheld from his court martial in 2013. The Mail has already reported that:

*    The Afghan fighter that Blackman shot had been mortally wounded;

*    Two of his comrades had been blown up, a third tortured and the limbs of mutilated soldiers hung from a tree by the Taliban;

*    His commanding officer resigned in disgust at his treatment.

And yesterday it also emerged that:

*    The jury trying Blackman was split 5-2 and put under pressure to convict;

*    Some were desk-job sailors without experience of battle;

*   The defence team blundered by failing to fight for a manslaughter conviction;

*   The Royal Navy is plotting a ‘media strategy’ to hush up findings of failures by senior commanders;

*    Retired military chiefs including Lord Dannatt called for the case to be re-examined.

Last night Blackman’s wife Claire said she was overwhelmed by the response from the public so far, and immensely proud of her husband, who had been made to ‘pay terribly for one mistake in the heat of battle’.

She added: ‘This was war. This man would gladly have tortured my husband before killing him if the roles had been reversed.’

Supporters say the veteran commando – believed to be the only British serviceman ever convicted of murder on the battlefield – was made a scapegoat for failings by top brass.

The Mail has discovered that an inquiry, commissioned after the murder conviction for wider lessons to be learnt from the incident, was given a disturbing insight into failings by Blackman’s superiors that directly contributed to his state of mind at the time of the shooting.

But instead of making these failings public, the Ministry of Defence is planning to absolve itself of all responsibility and heap further blame on Blackman, a secret letter seen by this newspaper suggests.

Last night Frederick Forsyth, the author spearheading the campaign for justice for Blackman, said: ‘It is disgraceful that navy top brass plan to sweep under the carpet evidence which could help Sgt Blackman.

‘He and his men were abandoned in an Afghan hell on earth until they were dangerously exhausted – a grenade with the pin out.

‘Now the sergeant has been left to rot in jail while the brass pretend they have never heard of him.’

The campaign aims to fund a new legal appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which has the power to send his case back to the Courts Martial Appeal Court where his murder conviction could be reduced to manslaughter.

Within hours of the campaign being launched yesterday, more than a thousand people had sent messages of support.

Many also donated money online to fund the Blackmans’ legal appeal, with one person even hand-delivering a £50 cheque to the Mail’s office in London.

Backers from all over the world vowed to help the jailed serviceman clear his name, including hundreds of veterans and professionals from all walks of life.

By September 15, 2011, when Blackman shot the insurgent his troop had already become ‘psychologically defeated’, according to an official assessment.

The Mail’s investigation has uncovered the truth behind the ‘tour that broke J-Company’. Alleged chain of command failings, unheeded warnings, under-manning and equipment shortages put unimaginable pressure on the Royal Marines manning the front line.

The isolated troops were forced to pursue Downing Street’s ‘hearts and minds’ strategy – while the Taliban were taunting them by displaying the body parts of their mutilated comrades in a tree.

Yesterday Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, rejected Blackman’s claim that his conviction for murder was part of a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win over Afghan opinion and ‘show the world how politically correct we are’.

But he said that ‘if there is new information it should be put on the table and the case should be opened up’.

Major General Julian Thompson, who led the Marines in the Falklands, said: ‘I have thought from the very beginning that the case should be reopened. I have always believed that the sentence was far too stiff.’

Tory MP Adam Holloway, a former Captain in the Grenadier Guards who fought in the First Gulf War, said: ‘I have known [the colonel who resigned] Ollie Lee well for 20 years and what he’s saying must be correct. The case should be reopened.’

Original report here

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