A day after he was dramatically released from detention, Sergeant Danny Nightingale faces a battle to clear his name but he insisted he was simply happy to hug his children and humbled by the public support.
Only a week after the case of the SAS soldier given 18 months’ military detention for illegally possessing a pistol caused a furore in parliament and led to a petition signed by 107,000 people, the Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to 12 months suspended and released him.
Yesterday, Sgt Nightingale said he was “absolutely elated” to be able to return to his wife, Sally, and daughters Alys, two, and Mara, five, whose first request had been to ask him to tickle their feet. “The hugs were enough really, words weren’t needed,” said the 37-year-old, thanking his wife for her tireless campaign. “Without her this would never have started. She has been the catalyst – her courage, her dignity and maintaining her integrity the whole way through,” he told ITV.
But his wife insisted they still felt driven to clear his name, adding: “Danny has been used as a scapegoat and they chose the wrong person to do that to. There’s so many mitigating circumstances.”
His lawyer, Simon McKay, plans to take the unusual step of appealing against his conviction despite the fact he pleaded guilty at the court martial. Sgt Nightingale’s family insist he was “bullied” into an admission after being told he could face a five-year sentence if convicted but would be treated leniently if he admitted the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Mr McKay explained that the special forces soldier had pleaded guilty because he feared being separated from family.
“Sgt Nightingale’s strong belief was that if he pleaded not guilty and it went to trial and he was found guilty, he would get five years in jail. The appeal will be that the guilty plea was not a genuine reflection of his criminal culpability,” he said.
When Sgt Nightingale, a sniper and a medic, flew home with the bodies of two colleagues in 2007, a 9mm Glock pistol he had been given by an Iraqi soldier was packed up and shipped back among his kit.
It was left in storage before being transferred to his quarters. Sgt Nightingale who suffered brain damage and memory loss after collapsing during an endurance run, forgot about it. It remained undiscovered until police searched his quarters over an unrelated matter.