Marine faces murder appeal wait

A Royal Marine found guilty of murdering an injured Afghan fighter will have to wait to find out if he has successfully appealed against his "unsafe" conviction.

Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman is challenging his conviction
Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman is challenging his conviction

Three judges at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London, who heard argument today on behalf of Sergeant Alexander Blackman that his conviction should be quashed, will give their decision at a date to be fixed.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice Hallett will rule on whether or not the conviction can stand.

In the event of the court finding against him on the conviction appeal, the judges have been urged to reduce his "manifestly excessive" sentence.

After being convicted last November at a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, the 39-year-old was ordered to serve a minimum of 10 years before he can apply for parole.

He was also "dismissed with disgrace" from the Royal Marines after he had served with distinction for 15 years, including tours of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

The killing happened in Helmand province in 2011 while Blackman, who is known as Al, was serving with Plymouth-based 42 Commando.

He shot the Afghan, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol before quoting a phrase from Shakespeare as the man convulsed and died in front of him.

Blackman told him: "There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us."

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

During the trial, Blackman was known as Marine A, and his junior colleagues - who were both cleared - as Marines B and C. They were later named as Corporal Christopher Watson and Marine Jack Hammond.

The shooting was captured on a camera mounted on the helmet of Cpl Watson.

Blackman, who denied murder, said he believed the victim was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse. He has said he felt ashamed at his behaviour, describing it as a "stupid lack of self-control and lapse in judgment".

His QC, Anthony Berry, said he was convicted by a seven-man court martial board. In explaining a point of law raised in the challenge, he said: "The appellant submits that the possibility that he was convicted by a simple majority renders his conviction inherently unsafe."

He argued that "by virtue of the possibility that he was convicted by a simple majority of a seven-man board there remains doubt as to whether the prosecution in fact satisfied the criminal standard of proof".

Mr Berry said it was also submitted that voting requirements in Crown Court constituted important procedural safeguards that are "unfairly denied" to those subject to the court martial process.

But Philip Havers QC, making submissions on behalf of the Defence Secretary, submitted that the challenge was "misconceived".

Making submissions on the length of sentence, Mr Berry told the court that the incident happened "in a moment of madness".

There was a "cocktail of circumstances which led this brave and modest man, to whom loyal duty and allegiance to the corps was second to nothing, briefly to lose his head".

He added that, "despite the fact that this is an extremely unusual case and gives rise to many different reactions from people, including the public", the sentence of 10 years was too long.

Mr Berry agreed with Lord Thomas that the core point he was making in his sentence challenge was that the court martial "did not stand back far enough and realise the tremendous stresses that people are put under in a war involving insurgents".

At the completion of legal argument, Lord Thomas said the court would take time to consider the appeal. No date was given for the ruling.

Blackman's wife Claire, 42, was present for the hearing, but said she would not be making a comment until after the court gives its decision.