By Derek Bernard
United Kingdom --(Ammoland.com)- Outside the British Isles the case of Sergeant Danny Nightingale has attracted very little attention, so some background information is called for.
In 2007 Sgt. Nightingale was a Special Forces sniper in Iraq with a 12-year exemplary record. He trained a special anti-terrorist Iraqi force and did the job so well that the trainees formally presented him with a Glock pistol as a “Thank You” gift.
His tour in Iraq was coming to an end that year but, before he could pack up his things, 2 friends were killed in a helicopter crash and he was hurried back to the UK to accompany their bodies. His kit was packed by his colleagues and shipped to him. The pistol stayed in the container, unopened, until 2010.
In 2009 he participated in a 200-mile fund-raising trek in Brazil, during which he collapsed and stayed in a coma for 3 days. He recovered physically, but his memory was and is, severely damaged.
In 2010 he was posted to Afghanistan at short notice. While he was there the police searched the house at the regimental HQ that he shared with another soldier, about whom the police had received a complaint. They found Sgt. Nightingale’s pistol.
At his trial he was advised to plead guilty on the grounds that, if he didn’t and was found guilty, he would receive a 5-year sentence.
His sentence of 18 months attracted the attention of the London Daily Telegraph. When they contacted the Ministry of Defence to verify the story, they were told that Sgt. Nightingale did not want to be named and that publication would breach national security. Neither were true. But the Ministry then tried block publication with a formal censorship notice. The Telegraph had to get that overturned on the grounds that the story had no implications whatsoever for national security.
So here we see once-famed British Justice in action in all its majesty. Following a mass-killing tragedy a thoroughly bad, complex, expensive and anti-social Bill is constructed by the Home Office without any research worth the name, the one thing that they are consistently good at; the law is then passed rapidly by a hysterical and ignorant Parliament. It is then applied rigidly by the police, who could have delivered the pistol to the military base; by the prosecution service, who could have elected not to proceed as it was “not in the public interest”; and then by the Judge, who could have readily treated it as an “exceptional” case, but chose not to.
The one pale bright spark arrived on Friday in the form the Court of Appeal who rapidly ruled that the sentence was excessive and reduced it to12 months, suspended for 12 months, thus freeing Sgt. Nightingale immediately. Not a perfect victory, as the awful law is still there, waiting to destroy the next victim. But a lot better than nothing.
My letter to the Daily Telegraph follows.
The Daily Telegraph
30th November 2012
Sgt. Danny Nightingale
Of course the prosecution and jailing of Sgt. Nightingale was an absolute disgrace and gross injustice and thank goodness he has been released. But two wrongs don’t make a right … treating the poor chap as a special case because he is a good soldier makes a thoroughly bad situation a bit worse.
What about all the other people who have not committed, or intended to commit, any anti-social act, but have had their lives turned upside down because the UK Firearms Act is a terrible, vicious law? Like Sgt. Morgan Cook, who had hoped to shoot for England in the Olympics, grandmother Gail Cochrane, for keeping a family heirloom for 29 years without any ammunition, Andrew Richardson, for forgetting about a revolver that he hadn’t seen for 20 years, or Paul Clarke, for handing in a shotgun that he found in his garden to the police, to name a few.
Making simple gun possession a serious, statutory criminal offence with big terms of mandatory imprisonment, even in the complete absence of any anti-social act or intent, makes it absolutely inevitable that decent people like Nightingale will end up in jail.
It is easy to argue that the police should have had a quiet word in his ear; or the CPS should not have prosecuted because “it would not be in the public interest”; or the trial Judge should have used his power to treat the circumstances as “exceptional”. But those arguments really amount to distorting the law so that some people are treated more favorably than others – which, of course, absolutely undermines a fundamental principle of British justice, that the law must be applied equally to everyone.
What is badly needed is a hugely better/less awful Firearms Law.
Once upon a time … the principle of mens rea, which required the prosecution to prove that the accused had “a guilty mind”, was a powerful bedrock of the British criminal justice system. But proving real guilt can take a bit of time and skill. So, when there are far too many laws and vast numbers of people to prosecute … it is so much easier to have absolute or statutory offences …