The SAS soldier locked up over a pistol he kept as a souvenir of a tour of duty walked free tonight after High Court judges suspended his sentence.
Danny Nightingale was embraced by his wife, who has led the campaign to have him freed, in the lobby of the court after he was told that the original sentence of 18 months’ detention would also be cut to 12. The 37-year-old, who was described as an “exceptionally good soldier” by former colleagues, said he was “humbled” by the public reaction.
Speaking to supporters and journalists outside the High Court in London this evening, Mr Nightingale said: “Thank you to the great British public. They have been absolutely wonderful in their support. It has just been extremely humbling. Very, very humbling.
And, soon after Sgt. Nightingale left the High Court, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced that he was considering an amnesty on illegally held weapons.
Sally Nightingale, who has led the campaign to have her husband freed, wept in court as the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, Mr Justice Fulford and Mr Justice Bean gave their decision.
Speaking afterwards, she said she had not allowed herself to hope that Sgt Nightingale would be home to his family for Christmas. She said: “It can only be good for all the troops out there fighting for our country to see justice has been done.”
During a two-hour hearing in the Court Martial Appeal Court, the judges considered separately whether or not to allow him to appeal his conviction and whether or not to amend his sentence. They decided in his favour and his appeal against the conviction itself will be heard at a later date.
Sgt. Nightingale, who is a specially trained medic with his unit, was originally sentenced to military detention earlier this month by a judge sitting in a military court after admitting illegally possessing a Glock 9mm pistol and more than 300 rounds of ammunition.
He was given the weapon as a leaving present by a unit of Iraq Special Forces he was training and said he had intended to have it decommissioned and to keep it as a trophy. The court heard that during a tour of duty, Sgt. Nightingale’s unit was being ordered to battle suspected suicide bombers on a nightly basis and had taken casualties; including a close friend of his.
The court also heard a character reference from his former commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams, who said that he stood out among his comrades as an educated and caring man. He said that Sgt. Nightingale had put his own life at risk numerous times and had saved many others’ lives.
He also described how Sgt. Nightingale invented a revolutionary type of dressing now used to treat chest wounds across the Armed Forces.
William Clegg QC, representing Sgt. Nightingale, said that his client has committed “serious offences” which crossed the “custody threshold”. But he argued that his client was advised to plead guilty in his initial trial because his lawyers were lead to believe by the judge that that was he only course of action which attract any leniency in sentencing.
He said: “An indication of how the public might interpret his duty and service while in the Army is perhaps reflected by a petition of 107,000 names…[it reflects] the esteem with which this regiment [the SAS] is held by the country and the consciousness of its service.
“If ever there was an exceptional case where an immediate period of detention was not necessary, this is it.”