21 Dec 2016

Marine A: missed warnings and a lack of leadership – the untold story of Sgt Blackman’s unit

Sergeant Blackman’s former commanding officer reveals to Channel 4 News the untold story of warnings issued about the disgraced marine’s unit, a lack of leadership and how “more could have been done in advance to avoid” the tragic outcome.

  • Sergeant Blackman’s former commanding officer says he issued warnings about the behaviour of the unit Blackman belonged to.
  • Colonel Oliver Lee OBE tells Channel 4 News he resigned from the Royal Marines because he was prevented from giving evidence in Sgt Blackman’s court martial.
  • He describes his exclusion as a “serious breakdown” of the “sacrosanct relationship between command and commanded”.
  • He says that at the time in Afghanistan, in 2011, operations had changed from “war fighting” to a “sophisticated level of counter insurgency” and that in his view these needs were not being met.

Sergeant Blackman’s former commanding officer reveals to Channel 4 News the untold story of warnings issued about the disgraced marine’s unit, a lack of leadership and how “more could have been done in advance to avoid” the tragic outcome.

Sgt Alexander Blackman was today denied bail pending a challenge to his conviction for murdering an injured Afghan fighter in 2011, for which he is serving a life sentence.

In his first television interview, former Colonel Oliver Lee, who took over command of parts of 42 Commando towards the end of the 2011 tour, said Sgt Blackman’s unit was operating in “extremely challenging” circumstances which required “very strong leadership” to enable “exceptionally disciplined soldiering”.

“Very sadly I feel that at a series of levels above Sgt Blackman that sort of leadership was absent,” he told Channel 4 News.

‘Raised concerns’

Lee said he had also “raised concerns” about the culture of “certain elements” of the unit.

An internal Ministry of Defence report – OP Telemeter – described how “many outside 42 Commando” perceived the unit as “overly aggressive”. Lee told Channel 4 News he would “broadly agree with that” characterisation”.

“I felt that certain elements of the unit that I came to command right at the end of the tour were not operating in a manner that I would have wished to see them operating in, and I felt that that in relative terms increased the chances of a Sgt Blackman type event taking place.” he said.

Asked if he had warned senior command about the unit, he said: “Yes I did, I raised concerns about what was happening in that particular area in advance. Yes, that is entirely right.”

Broader story

Despite being Blackman’s commanding officer, Lee was not included in the court martial proceedings against him – something he says was “extremely bizarre”.

“I felt very strongly that it was my responsibility to be in involved in that, such that Sgt Blackman’s proceedings were adequately transparent and that the full context within which he was operating at the time when he acted as he did was made clear to those who were deliberating over his future,” he said.

“That is not a code for me seeking to exonerate him from his responsibilities. I’ve never sought to do that.

Former Colonel Oliver Lee

“He clearly has responsibilities to carry. But there is a much wider story, a much broader story surrounding the manner in which he was contextually operating within, that has not been told.”

‘Sacrosanct relationship’

Lee resigned from the Royal Marines in protest at the way legal proceedings were carried out against Sergeant Blackman – including that the broader factors around the incident were not considered.

“Firstly, I felt the situation in which Sgt Blackman had found himself in Afghanistan was one that reasonably more could have been done in advance to avoid,” he said.

“And secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally specific to my resignation, the fact that those factors, in spite of my efforts to make this so, were not then included in the proceedings against him.

“And that seemed to me, in an organisation that absolutely fundamentally relies on the, what I describe as, sacrosanct relationship between command and commanded, those people who are in command and those people who are working beneath that command, it seemed like a serious break down of that relationship and I didn’t find that able to be tolerated.

Sergeant Blackman was “dismissed with disgrace” from the Royal Marines following his conviction for murder in December 2013. In 2014 he lost a Court of Appeal bid to overturn his life sentence.

At the end of last year 1,100 new pages of evidence were handed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in a bid to have the case sent back to the Court Martial Appeal Court.

The CCRC referred the case back to the Appeal Court, following an 11-month review, saying the new evidence raises “a real possibility” of Sgt Blackman’s conviction being quashed.

An MOD spokesperson said: “We will continue to co-operate fully with any legal process involving Sgt Blackman’s case.”