Royal Marine Alexander Blackman is expected to be freed from prison in two weeks after the court martial appeal court sentenced him to seven years for the manslaughter of an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.
Following a campaign by his family and a newspaper, it was announced on Tuesday that Alexander Blackman, 42, was expected to be freed three-and-half-years after he was dismissed from the military in disgrace and sent to a civilian prison.
Blackman remains a convicted killer, but the decision by five senior judges that he has served long enough behind bars will be greeted with relief by his supporters.
His barrister, Jonathan Goldberg QC, said he would be released in about two weeks because of the length of time he has already spent in prison, but it will be for the prison service to determine his exact release date.
Blackman had been dismissed from the military with disgrace. The judges said in light of his previous outstanding service and the finding of diminished responsibility this should not stand. But they said he should be dismissed because of the seven-year sentence and the “severe damage” to the armed services his offence had caused.
Blackman’s wife, Claire, who was in court, beamed as the sentence was delivered. There were cheers and applause from the public gallery.
Blackman, who appeared via video-link from prison in Wiltshire, did not react as the sentence was delivered but smiled after the judges left the court room.
Blackman became the first member of the modern British armed services to be convicted of murder during an overseas operation and was jailed for life in 2013.
Last month his conviction was quashed by the court martial appeal court after hearing he was suffering from a mental condition called an adjustment disorder that substantially impaired his ability to make rational judgments.
In mitigation, last week Goldberg argued that Blackman was “truly the last casualty of a failed war” and should be shown “exceptional mercy”.
He added: “We have turned the page on that chapter as a nation. What good will it do to keep him – the last casualty – in prison? The incarceration of almost three and a half years, which he has already served, is already too much for his crime.”
Goldberg said Blackman “still has so much good in him to give to the community – possibly even the Royal Marines community – because there are many jobs that would not put him on the frontline of battle.
He described the 2011 killing, which took place when Blackman was serving in Helmand province with 42 Commando, as a “single blot on an otherwise exemplary career”.
Goldberg asked the court to reflect on the question of why the incident in a “godforsaken field in Helmand” had captured the public imagination.
He explained: “It is that the vast majority of right-thinking ordinary men and women in this country recognise that our way of life and our values and even perhaps our civilisation is today under threat as rarely before by dark forces, and that it is the courage and sacrifice of men like Marine A [his anonymised codename during his original court martial] without whom we would all be at the mercy of the new barbarians.”
Goldberg also argued that Blackman’s new sentence should come alongside his reinstatement in the armed forces.
Blackman’s wife, Claire, 45, who has led the campaign to have him freed, told judges that her husband’s dismissal with disgrace was the hardest aspect to bear.
She described her husband askind, thoughtful, and generous. “He is the first to help anybody in need, he doesn’t hesitate. He is incredibly calm, warm and good humoured. Even in our current circumstances we laugh a lot,” she said.
“If a role within the Royal Marines were available I know that would be a real positive for him … I think it was the dismissal with disgrace which was the hardest aspect of the whole episode to bear.
“I’ve always said that if you cut my husband in half, it would say Royal Marine all the way through him. It has been his life, his love; it is a career he excelled at. To take that away so abruptly was the most difficult thing.”
Blackman’s original court martial heard how a patrol led by Blackman in 2011 was tasked with assessing a Taliban fighter who had been badly injured by Apache helicopter fire in Helmand. The marines disarmed him and dragged him to the edge of a field, where he was sworn at and mocked.
Once the Apache had gone and the marines had made sure they were out of sight of a British observation balloon, Blackman leaned in and shot the unarmed insurgent in the chest.
As the man’s body twitched, Blackman told him: “There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil, you cunt. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.” Moments later, he told colleagues: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere fellas. I’ve just broken the Geneva convention.”
Footage of the incident, which was captured by a head camera worn by one of Blackman’s team, was discovered by chance a year later by military investigators.
The Daily Mail launched a “campaign for justice” for Blackman, portraying him as a brave, loyal marine who had been working in challenging conditions with little supervision or backup from his superiors; readers donated £800,000 towards Blackman’s legal expenses.