Skip to main content

UK court suspends sentence for soldier over Iraqi pistol

From Matthew Chance, CNN
updated 9:32 PM EST, Thu November 29, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nightingale pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a weapon and ammunition
  • The soldier served in Britain's special forces as a sniper
  • SAS veterans asked the British prime minister to intervene in the case

London (CNN) -- A British special forces soldier was freed from prison Thursday after an appeals court shortened and then suspended the sentence he was serving for keeping a pistol presented to him by Iraqi forces in 2007.

The court initially reduced Sgt. Danny Nightingale's 18-month sentence to 12 months and then suspended it.

The soldier, an 11-year veteran of the British military's Special Air Service, was released from custody shortly after the court's ruling and was greeted by his wife and father.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he's delighted that Nightingale is going home.

"The justice system has worked, I was pleased that an appeal was heard quickly and it is right that a court should decide on whether the sentence was appropriate," Hammond added. "The Court of Appeal has decided the sentence was too harsh and has freed him."

The initial sentencing earlier this month sparked outrage across Britain. Nightingale had pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition, on the understanding that he would be granted leniency at his court martial.

The soldier was given the gun by Iraqi forces he had been training, and was to give it to his SAS regiment as a war trophy. But the deaths of two comrades in a helicopter crash sent Nightingale back to Britain, and his belongings were packed for him in Iraq and sent home -- including the weapon.

When the gun was discovered by military police years later, it was still in a locked box -- unopened since it was presented to him.

Nightingale's lawyer said the soldier suffered a memory loss after he collapsed during a charity marathon in the Amazonian jungle in 2009 and remained in a coma for three days.

High-profile SAS veterans sent an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron after Nightingale was sentenced, asking Cameron to release the soldier.

Lawyers for Nightingale say they now intend to appeal his original conviction, to clear the name of a man many see as a betrayed war hero.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 2:18 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT