Locked up for shooting a Taliban insurgent while conducting operations in 2011, Royal Marine Sergeant Al Blackman must have wondered what the fuck was going on. He’d become the first British soldier to be convicted of a battlefield murder while serving abroad since WWII.
Video of him in the act was discovered by police during the investigation of an unrelated incident. What happened then, in my opinion, was a catalogue of errors that led to Blackman being convicted of murder, with the single most important piece of evidence (a corpse) never even being examined. The whereabouts of said body is not known to this day, and when last seen, it had been hit at least twice by .30 caliber rounds. How any court in the world could confidently attribute the death to any one person is beyond comprehension for me, especially in a world where things must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
What happened during the next few years after Blackman was taken away to serve his sentence must surely be one of the best examples of public intervention playing its part to see justice served correctly. Led by Blackman’s wife, Claire, a campaign for his release unfolded, steadily growing in support until a decision had to be made to rectify the awful rulings originally made by the courts. The Daily Mail spearheaded the charge and helped raise thousands to pay for the legal fees, which were, as always, a huge expense. Public figures turned out, with retired generals and heads of the military putting their reputations at stake to stand up for what was right.
The commando spirit was tested to the limit as veterans turned out again and again to show their unrelenting support. Marches and rallies were attended in London and elsewhere in the country to show the powers that be that, as a community, veterans were not going to stand for what had happened. It was not just commandos who turned out to help, but cap badges from across the armed forces. Although there is fierce rivalry between the Corps and the Airborne, everyone drew together to get behind Claire and Al and help secure his freedom.
The courts took things to the wire on several occasions. It had been hoped that Blackman would be released before Christmas. The prosecution tried every trick in the book to delay, stall, upset, and throw any spanner they could in the works. At every turn, Claire and their legal team kept battling and producing new arguments. The veterans lined the streets outside of the courts. Taxi drivers sounded their horns as they drove past the crowds of veterans, all hoping to see the right result. The top judges from across the U.K. were asked to try to make sense of it all: not just one, but a panel of five judges—all of them at the top of their game—sat and studied the cases being presented in front of them.
In the galleries, specially set up for supporters, the veterans watched every second unfold. Blackman appeared via video link on a large screen, calmly showing no emotion and keeping his dignity during what must have been the worst days of his life. Outside, the supporters—veterans and civilians alike—made trips backward and forward across the road to the cafe and pub while hoping to hear the news that Blackman was going to be released.
On more than one occasion, his support was informed that Blackman was to remain behind bars. People who had traveled the length and breadth of the country were left to ponder outside of the Royal Courts on whether or not they were the courts of justice or injustice. The press camped outside had nothing to take photos of besides the disappointed people who just wanted to see justice served. Press conferences held on the steps showed how visibly upset Claire was, but she kept it together and was strong. There was a determination about her that spurred everyone on, reassuring them that the situation would be rectified and that the hours of campaigning would be worth it.
Finally, after years of trying and countless trips to the courts, news filtered through that a breakthrough had been made. On the steps of the court, smiles started to appear from inside, then the news broke. There was celebrating like never before as the world’s press snapped away and the television cameras rolled, all trying to capture the remarkable scenes. A band of brothers, led by a jailed soldier’s wife, and a decent legal team had made a difference. They scenes in the street were of jubilation and relief. The pub across the road was steadying itself for a Green Beret-led piss up like it had never experienced in its long history.
Claire, surrounded by her legal team and mobbed by a crowd of veterans, appeared for the first time to officially deliver the good news. There was cheering and chants of, “He’s coming home! He’s coming home!” The courts had reduced the charges against Blackman from murder to manslaughter, and recognized that Blackman had been under severe pressure at the time of the incident, which impacted his decision-making. They were to release him in the next few weeks.
After many rumors and much speculation, Blackman was released in the early hours of the morning and driven away in an unmarked car for his own security and protection. The following day, the Daily Mail published the first pictures while the TV concentrated on his lawyer. I am proud to say that I was privileged enough to be able to show my support, and I’m humbled by the way everyone involved went about the whole process. Never at any stage was there any hint that anyone would give up, and it was this that I take the most from. Justice has been restored because a group of people never gave up. I wish the Blackmans’ every success in life, whatever way it takes them next.
Featured image courtesy of independent.co.uk