2 Jul 2013

Danny Nightingale court martial: SAS soldiers give evidence

It all takes me back many a long year to Gibraltar and the court presided over by Felix Pizzarello, the then coroner of the Rock. And why? Because the coroner’s court in Gibraltar was the last time I heard serving SAS officers called to give evidence in a court of law, anonymously.

Then it was the inquest into the deaths of Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Danny McCann, three IRA members shot dead in Gibraltar by the SAS.

All these years on the anonymous voices are giving evidence against one of their own – not the Provisional IRA.

Sixteen SAS soldiers have been called by the prosecution to give evidence anonymously – when they are in the box, we, the public and media, decamp next door.

Whether any of this is really necessary or desirable beyond preserving the mystique of a relatively secret and thus less accountable army regiment is open to debate – though few seem willing to have it in British public life.

The prosecution outlined two SAS firing instructors and close friends for 12 years, living in a suburban house, the location of which we can’t disclose.

And living in a minor arsenal of equipment that should not have been there: flares, ammo, a grenade, night-vision goggles, guns. Sgt Nightingale’s housemate and one-time good friend has confessed to the live hand-grenade in the garage, a weapon and sundry ammo lying about the house.

The court martial is about how Sgt Danny Nightingale came to have an Austrian Glock 9mm pistol with three mags in a box in his wardrobe. How too, did he come to have a large bag of 338 live rounds under his bed?

These include 172 live 9mm rounds capable of being fired by the wardrobed Glock.

Said bag was paraded around the court today – heavy, larger, bullets in brown cardboard boxes and larger loose rounds,

Timothy Cray, prosecuting, says that nobody suggests Sgt Nightingale is a bad soldier – but no soldier is above the law of the land, whatever their unit, whatever their record.

The defence case has altered from saying Sgt Nightingale forgot he had this stuff, to saying someone else put it in his room.

Today the prosecution laid out both of these arguments and said the coming evidence would prove neither is tenable.

And for the many who feel this SAS man appears to be being tried a second time? He was convicted and that conviction was quashed on appeal and he was released from military prison.

The short answer is that he pleaded guilty during the first prosecution so there was never a trial. That conviction was quashed and he was released from military prison.

Now, some months down the line a full court martial is convened before a board of five officers (the jury) and we will likely know next week how the small arsenal came to be in the bedroom of a serving soldier.

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