Murdering marine named after press appeal could receive 'paedophile' prison protection

The country’s top judge today defended the decision to name a Royal Marine convicted of murdering a wounded Afghan insurgent in September 2011.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said Sgt Alexander Wayne Blackman should be named “in the interests of open justice”. He dismissed fears that Blackman may be targeted in prison because of his crime, claiming authorities are used to providing protection to "at-risk" offenders such as paedophiles.

Blackman, 39, received a life sentence following his murder conviction and was told he must serve a minimum of ten years in an ordinary civilian prison.

Thomas also ruled that two other Marines B and C should also be named, although he granted them an opportunity to appeal his decision to the Supreme Court.

The Guardian, Sky News, Associated Newspapers and News UK sought to overturn the anonymity orders and secure the release of footage of the murder captured on a helmet-mounted camera.

The court earlier released some still photographs but refused to issue video footage of the killing.     

Lord Thomas said: "The case is of the greatest public interest, involving as it does a unique charge of murder against soldiers on military operations against a wounded detainee. There is, therefore, the greatest public interest in the whole of the proceedings being publicly reported."

Commenting on Blackman, Thomas said: “There is the greatest public interest in knowing who he was and his background, given his conviction.

"It would require an overwhelming case if a person convicted of murder in the course of an armed conflict were to remain anonymous."

Blackman’s legal team claimed their client might be attacked in prison if his name was released, however the Court of Appeal rejected this.

Thomas said: “The prison authorities will be well aware of that risk and take steps to minimise it, as they do for other offenders at risk of attack in prison, such as paedophiles.

"There is the threat, as assessed by JTAC (the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre), to his family and to Marine A on his release under licence from his life sentence.

"It is a known risk. The MoD has taken steps in the past to protect the families of the Marines. There is nothing to suggest that they would not in the future.

"Balancing those considerations, we have no doubt that the balance comes very firmly down on the side of open justice; the identity of Marine A must be made public."

Two other Marines were acquitted. Charges against a further two were previously discontinued.

Following the conviction of Blackman – a hugely experienced Royal Marine who completed tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland during his military career – Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett ruled that the names of the three defendants and the two other servicemen should be made public.

Lawyers for the five challenged that decision before Lord Thomas, Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mr Justice Holroyde at a hearing at the High Court, arguing that their lives would be at "real and immediate" risk if their names are released.

On 5 December the court said that, as well as ruling that Blackman should be named, the two acquitted servicemen, known as Marines B and C, should also be identified.

But their identities have not been revealed pending a possible move by their lawyers to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

The question of naming the two other Royal Marines, referred to as Marines D and E, against whom charges were discontinued, will be the subject of a further hearing before the court martial judge.

Thomas said that in relation to Marines B and C, "the public interest in open justice" which the court set out in relation to Blackman, is the same, adding: "It can make no difference that B and C were acquitted".

On the issue relating to any threat to the lives of the servicemen, Thomas said that the finding of the court martial judge that there is no real and immediate threat to the lives of Marines A, B and C is a finding that is "plainly open on the evidence" to him.

"Given this finding, his conclusion that an order prohibiting identification was not required to comply with the obligations under Article 2 (right to life) was unassailable," he said.

In the cases of Marines B and C, Thomas said: "The risk to these two Marines was not immediate. They have returned to service. The MoD has taken steps to protect them; arrangements have been made with the local police in respect of their families.

"There is nothing to suggest that this will not continue. In the circumstances, it would not be reasonable to make so substantial a derogation from open justice as to prohibit the identification of any of the defendants B and C.

"The risks to the Article 8 rights (right to respect for private and family life) are not, in this case, sufficient to outweigh the importance of open justice."

The court also had to bear in mind that orders prohibiting identification of the accused "carry dangers to third parties where, as here, there are other people with some innocent involvement in the events giving rise to the charges".

The judge said: "If the names of the accused are not known, attempts at revenge may be directed to others present at the same time as those whose names have been published."

Blackman, who denied murder, had 15 years' experience in the Royal Marines, having joined in 1998, and was in charge of Command Post Omar in Helmand during Operation Herrick 14 in 2011.

Before a video of the murder came to light, Blackman was being considered for promotion to Colour Sergeant.

He shot the unknown insurgent in the chest but said he believed the man was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse. He has said he feels ashamed at his actions, describing them as "a stupid lack of self-control and lapse in judgement".

As the fighter lies on the floor convulsing and struggling for breath, Sgt Blackman tells him: "There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil you c***. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us."

He then turned to his comrades and said: "Obviously this doesn't go anywhere fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention."

 

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