Court martial told: former SAS sergeant Danny Nightingale is lying over illegal gun

Prosecutor says ex-sniper has changed story about how he came to be in possession of it and is now lying

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The Independent Online

Sergeant Danny Nightingale has changed his story about how he came to be in possession of an illegal gun and was now lying, it was claimed at a court martial today.

The SAS sniper's case became a cause celebre late last year when it emerged that he had been jailed for 18-months. A campaign by his wife Sally led to such a public outcry that the matter was raised in parliament and the 38-year-old was released after the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction.

Today Timothy Cray insisted the experienced soldier had put the public in danger by keeping a weapon and ammunition in his house.

"Those dangers were particularly acute in this case given the quantity of 9mm rounds that were stored in the same room as the gun," said the barrister, adding that the case might have attracted a lot of attention because of the "mystique" surrounding the special forces regiment but it did not make any difference to the rules governing the storage of weapons.

"No soldier, no matter what his experience is or what unit he is attached to, is above the law," he added.

Mr Cray was opening the prosecution case in a court martial that it has been claimed is pitting army authorities against the elite regiment.

The week-long case, in which Sgt Nightingale has pleaded not guilty to possession of an illegal Glock 9mm pistol as well as 338 rounds, is expected to hear evidence from a number of SAS officers and soldiers, both in person and via video link from Afghanistan.

Mr Cray said that Sgt Nightingale and his house mate, named only as Soldier N, were brought home from a tour of Afghanistan in September 2011 after arms and ammunition were found in the house they shared.

During initial interviews with West Mercia police and then the military police, the father-of-two had made "full admissions", conceding the gun was a war trophy given to him by Iraqis when he served in Baghdad in 2007. He had intended to decommission it and give it to his unit, he said. As a range instructor, he had accumulated the ammunition simply due to bad administration. His failure to comply with regulations was an oversight due to the hectic nature of work and deployments, he explained.

But the defence was now claiming, Mr Cray said, that he believed the weapon could have been placed in his bedroom by someone else. The "various explanations" he had made earlier, Mr Cray said, he now attributed to memory problems after collapsing during a jungle marathon in Brazil in October 2009.

Yet he returned to duty four months later and had been "100 per cent fit" before being deployed to Afghanistan in May 2011, the prosecutor told the court martial sitting before Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett.

"He made no complaint of memory loss at the time of his (initial police) interviews and we suggest that what he is saying now is wholly inconsistent with his record of service since the injury and is untrue," Mr Cray told the Military Court Centre at Bulford, Wiltshire.

Despite being a soldier whose career deserved "high praise", he had made mistakes, the barrister said: "We say there is no excuse for what the defendant did. No matter how he tries to deny it, the gun and ammunition were in his bedroom because he put them there and he kept them there. These are the plan facts which he will not face up to."

Addressing the court martial board, Mr Cray said the issues were simple. Had Sgt Nightingale or someone else placed the gun and ammunition in his room and, if it was someone else, why had he missed it?

He continued: "Is the claim of memory loss in respect to these substantial and detailed false confessions the truth or a lie told to try and avid the consequences of the truth?"

The case continues.