Five Royal Marines charged with murder to remain anonymous, judge rules

 

Five Royal Marines charged with murder following an incident in Afghanistan will remain anonymous, a judge has ruled.

The men, known only as Marines A, B, C, D and E, will have their identities protected until the conclusion of court martial proceedings against them, when it will be reviewed.

All five are charged with the murder of an unknown captured Afghan national on or about September 15 last year contrary to Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act (2006).

They had first appeared in a behind closed doors hearing last month when an interim order was made under armed forces rules and the Contempt of Court Act, preventing the publication of their names due to a "real and immediate risk" to their lives.

The servicemen were released from custody on the orders of a judge when they appeared at another secret hearing on October 22.

Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett said he had sent them back to their barracks, where they would remain subject to certain conditions.

He extended the interim anonymity order until November 5 when a special hearing was held at the Military Court Centre in Bulford, Wiltshire, to allow the media to challenge the reporting restrictions.

At the hearing, the judge received written submissions from the Press Association, the Plymouth Herald and Guardian News and Media challenging the ban.

Behind closed doors and in the absence of the public, the judge received a document entitled Royal Marines - Threat Assessment from a departmental security officer at the Ministry of Defence, citing an assessment from the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

He also heard testimony from Anthony Tucker-Jones, a former defence intelligence officer, who had been instructed by the legal representatives of Marine B.

After the in camera hearing, which lasted an hour, the judge said he would reserve his judgment on the anonymity order until today and provide a written ruling.

In the ruling, Judge Blackett said: "On a joint application from the defence and the prosecution, I considered evidence relating to a security assessment in camera.

"This was necessary because some of the material was of a highly sensitive or classified nature.

"As a result, the press were unable to test any of the evidence which I heard from the defence expert, but I asked him to comment on the substance of their submissions."

The judge concluded: "Having considered the expert evidence from Mr Tucker-Jones, and the submissions from the parties, I am unable to conclude definitely that there is a real and immediate risk to the defendants' lives today.

"However, I am satisfied that there may be a real and immediate risk to the defendants' lives based on the information which is currently in the public domain, and that the risk will increase significantly when all of the prosecution evidence is disclosed as the trial unfolds.

"The risk comes from organised terrorist activity and 'lone wolves' who are unpredictable.

"In this respect, members of the armed forces are entitled to be treated differently from civilians within this country at this moment in history.

"While they must remain accountable for their actions, and part of that accountability is through open justice, they are also entitled to protection from terrorists who may not be concerned with due process, and who may well attempt revenge attacks.

"In other words, any assessment of risk must err on the side of the safety of members of the armed forces.

"I am not prepared to take a chance with these men's lives.

"If the defendants are acquitted at trial, then it is right that their identities are protected for the future.

"As members of the armed forces who are placed in harms way, and who undertake risks which do not confront civilians, they are entitled to this additional protection.

"If they, or any one of them, are convicted then the issue of anonymity will be reassessed."

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