From Hero to Zero — SAS sergeant thrown in jail

UPDATE: Between writing this at 1000 EDT this morning, and its scheduled publication at 1400, we got word (just after noon) that Danny has been released and will spend Christmas with his wife and daughter! So as a plea for his release, it’s moot. As a story of what can befall a member of a volunteer soldier in a nation that rejects the warrior culture, it’s still instructive.

Danny Nightingale, Sergeant, SAS, in better days.

The British press is on this like a pack of terriers, but it’s still quite hard to tease out the facts of the case. But Sergeant Danny Nightingale is in a British military prison — hopefully it’s not like the one in the Sean Connery film The Hill — and the root of the matter appears to have been a Glock. Nightingale is a member of our ally’s elite special operations force, the Special Air Service.

At one point, he worked with Iraqi forces, who are armed with Glocks thanks to the largesse of the American taxpayer, They presented him one, which came back to Bradbury Lines after his return to Hereford (yes, the stories are that vague on this point, but we have learned that he returned early to assist with a funeral for two squadron mates, and his mates in Iraq packed and shipped the Glock with his other gear), and it later wound up in his home and somehow came to the attention of police (more vagueness). And that was it for Danny.

Britain has no sense of humor at all about handguns; they are so thoroughly banned that the British Olympic team has to go to France to practice pistol shooting, although Parliament made a one-time exception for the 2012 Olympics. (To Commons’ presumed surprise, even the American Olympians didn’t commit mass mayhem with .22 Short rapid-fire pistols). Since the 1996 ban, the only people with guns are an increasing number of the  once-unarmed police, and any of the criminal element who feels the urge to take one up. Since the ban, gun crime in Britain has soared. The criminals break the law? Who could have predicted that?

While actual violent criminals have a hard time getting punished in the UK, travesties of justice await self-defenders and anyone else whose possession of a handgun is innocent. Public opinion and elite opinion diverge widely on the subject, and it’s public opinion that’s created pressure for the release of ex-Sergeant Nightingale, who completed 11 years’ honorable service with SAS and previously 6 years with another regiment. People calling for his release include old mates, his old CO, and even the Prime Minister. And there are some mitigating circumstances in his case — for example, brain injury from heat stroke makes him unable to remember what he actually did.

Lt Col Richard Williams, who was Sgt Nightingale’s commanding officer in Iraq, who will give evidence as a character witness at the appeal, said: “ I hope the sentence is reduced to the point so that he can go home to his family immediately.”

One of the key parts of the appeal will be the medical evidence supporting Sgt Nightingale’s claim that he had no recollection of being in possession of the pistol suffered a severe traumatic brain injury while taking part in 132 mile jungle marathon in Brazil in 2009.

He collapsed after running 30 miles when his body temperature rose to 111F. Over the next eight hours he suffered 13 epileptic fits, some of which last 30 minutes.

The soldier was in a coma for three hours and when he regained consciousness had no recollection that he had a daughter and struggled to remember key events in his life.

That seems like reason enough to let the guy go. In fact, the UK and the US should revisit their restrictive, legalistic war trophy rules and liberalize them. The problem with crime in either country is not rooted in the veteran demographic, no matter how frantically journalists may try to push that narrative at times. (The “veterans” in those crimes are often wannabes who never darkened a recruiter’s door, or rejects who were thrown out whilst in training).

In Nightingale’s case, there’s also a question of equal justice before the law:

It has also emerged that in a similar case in 2008, another Army sergeant who was in the illegal possession of two pistols and admitted stealing ammunition, was given a £1,500 fine. A crown court judge said that he had decided on a fine rather than imprisonment because of the soldier’s service in Iraq.

These snippets come from the Daily Telegraph which has extensive coverage on the Nightingale case. Just read the linked article and then check out the Related Articles linked near the top.