Article published in the Daily Telegraph, 22 December 2016. © Richard Kemp
With a lack of logic that few of Sergeant Alexander Blackman’s army of supporters will understand, Lord Chief Justice Thomas said he recognized the “unprecedented nature” of the case yet insisted on adhering to his own idea of precedents in not releasing him on bail.
The judge is right to fast-track Sergeant Blackman’s appeal, which may be heard as early as January or February. But the Criminal Cases Review Commission, after an 11-month investigation, has decided there is a real possibility that Blackman’s murder conviction will be quashed on appeal.
This means they believe he has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and will be freed. The judge should therefore have released him now pending his appeal, unless he was worried about Sgt Blackman reoffending or absconding.
Blackman is not an urban drug dealer jailed for premeditated murder of someone who owed him a few hundred pounds. He is a brave, upstanding Royal Marine who volunteered time after time to put his life on the line for his country and made a serious error of judgement under the stress of combat. It doesn’t take years of experience on the bench at the High Court to work out that he is not going to reoffend or flee his bail.
I have grave doubts about the real motives behind the way he has been treated, which fits into an unprecedented pattern of victimization by their own government of British troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
Blackman is the first member of the British Armed Forces ever to be convicted of murder on the battlefield. His conviction resulted from a defence that – astonishingly – did not include any consideration of the extreme battle stress that he was undoubtedly suffering after several bloody combat tours in quick succession.
This is the principal reason why the Review Commission believe his conviction is likely unsafe. It is blatantly obvious to anybody, with or without experience in battle, that combat stress must have been a major factor in his horrific behavior in Helmand Province. But it apparently did not occur to his legal team, appointed, let us not forget, by the Ministry of Defence.
Why did the judge at his court martial allow Blackman’s defence to proceed on this basis in 2013? Why did the Court Martial Appeal Court not spot this incredible flaw when they rejected his conviction challenge in 2014?
I believe the reality is that Blackman was the scapegoat of politicians who sought to appease the critics of a series of unpopular wars
and who allowed themselves to be misled by politically motivated lawyers and activists into believing that British soldiers were out of control and needed to have an example set to rein them in.
It may be only a few weeks until Blackman’s appeal is heard. But anyone who has been in custody knows the nightmare of every hour spent behind bars. And I dread to think what effect three years in jail has had on a man who was already suffering from severe psychiatric trauma. Think also of the nightmare for his wife and family.
Sgt Blackman’s case has seized the attention of the nation. But the High Court, as so often, is out of step.
Let us spare a thought this Christmas for Sgt Alexander Blackman in his prison cell. And let us hope that early in the new year the judges will eventually do the right thing by this man who has risked – and given – so much to defend us.