SAS sniper Danny Nightingale has won an appeal against a conviction for illegally possessing a pistol and ammunition.
Sergeant Nightingale’s barrister told three appeal judges that the soldier was put under “improper pressure” to plead guilty.
The judges agreed, quashing the convictions and ordering a retrial after a hearing in London.
Speaking outside court, Sergeant Nightingale said: “I’m absolutely elated. Again, thanking everyone massively for this. I do believe it was the right decision today.
“It is slightly tainted with the fact the retrial will be coming upon us, as it stands, tonight will be a happy night.
“We now have a re-trial to face. We will attack it with the same vigour and tenacity as we’ve done this.”
He said any decision on whether he returned to duty pending the re-trial would be for the Ministry of Defence.
William Clegg QC earlier told the hearing his client had been told by a barrister representing him at the military trial that he would get a five-year jail term if found guilty but might not go to prison if he pleaded guilty.
In written arguments presented to the three appeal judges, Mr Clegg said that “undue pressure” had been placed on Sgt Nightingale by barrister Ian Winter QC.
But when outlining arguments orally, Mr Clegg said the “wrong” occurred when the trial judge – Assistant Judge Advocate General Alastair McGrigor – “entered the arena”.
Mr Clegg told the appeal court today: “What he (Mr Winter) was forced to say is ‘This is what the judge is saying is going to happen’. This is where the improper pressure came from.”
The barrister said, in written arguments given to judges, that the “pressure” placed on Sgt Nightingale rendered his conviction “unsafe” and his guilty plea a “nullity”.
Sgt Nightingale, 38, who has spent 11 years in Special Forces and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was sentenced to 18 months in military custody after pleading guilty to illegally keeping a pistol.
He had been given the weapon as a present by Iraqi forces he had been training, but had no recollection of owning it after suffering a brain injury.
His sentence was cut to 12 months and suspended by the appeal court last November after a campaign by his wife Sally gathered huge public support for a man described by the appeal court judge as an “exemplary soldier”.
Since his release the highly trained elite soldier has been at home in Cheshire, unable to rejoin his regiment whilst awaiting the outcome of his appeal.
“It’s very frustrating wanting to do something (but having) no routine,” he said before the hearing.
“And yes, being paid to do not what I’m supposed to do.
“You’re trained up to do stuff, and you want to do stuff. You can’t stand the futility of not doing it. To be told ‘that’s it, go and do nothing, you can’t do anything’. That’s hard.”
The situation has meant he has spent a lot of time with his two young daughters, Mara, five, and Alys, two.
“I’ve probably had more time with my family in the last 18 months than regiment (SAS) guys will have in seven years,” he said.
Sgt Nightingale is desperate to get back to work and said: “I still love it. It was the proudest day of my life when I passed (the notoriously tough SAS selection course).”
Mrs Nightingale is more circumspect about the possibility of her husband rejoining the SAS as a frontline soldier after his brain injury, which she believes still affects him.
She feels her husband has been made a scapegoat by the Army and wants to know why, but acknowledges she will probably never get the answers to her questions.
If he does return to work then it will be more upheaval for his young girls according to Sally
“They’ve got to get used to that again because they have had dad to take them to school, to pick them up from school, do clubs with them, take them swimming,” she said.
“You know, he does all those extra bits while I’m working and doing other things. So they’ve had a really good time with dad.”
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