The Ministry of Defence was tonight facing allegations that it had tried to thwart details of the freed SAS sergeant Danny Nightingale’s story by resorting to a D-Notice, an embargo usually reserved for matters of national security.
The Sunday Telegraph alleges that it informed The MoD on 9 November that the newspaper planned to run a front page on the soldier’s detention. The move would involve putting his identity into the public domain, something that is now widely seen to have galvanised the public support that contributed to his release.
But the newspaper alleges that their efforts were hindered on at least two occasions. The first was shortly after Nightingale’s wife, Sally, gave her consent to the newspaper to release the details. She was allegedly called by her husband shortly afterwards and ordered not to co-operate. The account says: “Mrs Nightingale suspected that something was wrong and immediately phoned her lawyer saying that she believed he was making the call under duress.”
The second occasion came hours before the story was due to be published, when the newspaper allegedly received an email from the MOD saying that the SAS had spoken to Sgt Nightingale and he was “horrified” at the prospect of being named and his case being published. “The claims contained were nonsense, a fact which the MoD NOW accepts,” Sean Rayment, the paper’s defence correspondent writes.
The newspaper also says that it received a call from the D-Notice Committee – suggesting that naming Sgt Nightingale would breach the “contract all newspapers have undertaken to uphold voluntarily”. Last night spokeswoman for the MOD declined to comment on the matter. However the D-Notice duty secretary insisted that the advice had been given solely as guidance.
Sgt Nightingale, 37, was last month given 18 months’ military detention for illegally possessing a pistol and ammunition. Last Thursday three appeal judges concluded that the sentence was too harsh. They cut the term to 12 months, saying it should be suspended and ordered Nightingale’s release.