A Royal Marine convicted of killing a wounded Taliban fighter in Afghanistan has been jailed for seven years.
Sgt Alexander Blackman, 42, will be freed in weeks as he has already served more than three years in jail.
The sentencing came after the Court Martial Appeal Court ruled Blackman’s original murder conviction should be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
The 2011 shooting took place after a British patrol base came under fire.
One of two insurgents was seriously injured by gunfire from an Apache helicopter sent to provide air support, and the marines from 42 Commando found him in a field.
Blackman, from Taunton, Somerset, was known as Marine A during the original trial process and fully identified after he was found guilty.
He was not at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the sentencing but appeared via a video link from prison.
Sgt Blackman’s wife, Claire, led a campaign alongside author Frederick Forsyth and the Daily Mail newspaper for his conviction to be re-examined.
Standing outside court with her lawyers and cheering supporters, Mrs Blackman said she was “overjoyed at the judges’ decision to significantly reduce Al’s sentence, such that he can be released imminently”.
“This is the moment we have all been fighting hard for”.
Blackman’s supporters had hoped he would be reinstated to the Royal Marines but his dismissal from the service remains, although it is no longer dishonourable.
The trial was the first time a member of the British armed forces faced a murder charge in relation to the Afghanistan conflict. Two other marines from 42 Commando were tried at the same time but acquitted.
Blackman was convicted of murder in November 2013 and jailed for life. He lost an appeal in May the following year, but his 10-year minimum term was reduced to eight years.
Judges at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London had been told he had a recognised mental illness at the time of the killing.
His defence team argued the conviction was “unsafe” and fresh psychiatric evidence, if available at the time, would have provided him with a “partial defence”.
But in their sentencing remarks, the judges said that although Blackman’s responsibility was diminished, he “still retained a substantial responsibility for the deliberate killing”.
They added: “The appellant’s actions can be used by the insurgency and others as evidence that the killing of the insurgent was in breach of the values proclaimed for which the International Security Force and HM Armed Forces had been sent to Afghanistan.”
They said other “aggravating factors” included the vulnerability of the insurgent, who could not defend himself, and “the decision to ensure that the killing was not witnessed by the overhead helicopter and thereafter to cover up the evidence of what had happened”.
The killing on 15 September 2011 took place during the final month of 42 Commando’s six-month tour of duty to Helmand province – a deployment which saw the unit lose seven men.
Footage from an unofficial helmet-mounted camera of another marine was found during an unrelated investigation and showed Blackman shooting the Afghan prisoner in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol.
The court martial heard that Blackman used abusive language and said: “There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil.”
He then turned to his comrades and said: “obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention”.
Blackman told his original trial he believed the victim was already dead and he was taking out his anger on a corpse.
Reducing the conviction earlier this month, the judges said:
- Blackman had been “an exemplary soldier before his deployment”
- He had suffered from “quite exceptional stressors” which increasingly impacted on him the longer he was in command
- It was “clear that a consequence was that he had developed a hatred for the Taliban and a desire for revenge”
- At the time of the killing “the patrol remained under threat from other insurgents”
- The stressors and his adjustment disorder had been factors in “substantially” impairing his ability to form a rational judgment
Blackman had more than 13 years of service and had previously been deployed to Iraq on three occasions and to Afghanistan in 2007.