As a former guest there, I wouldn’t wish anyone Christmas in military prison and on those grounds I was happy to see Sergeant Danny Nightingale get one over the military’s bizarre version of a justice system.
It goes to show the power of the media when facing the military machine. Nightingale took a serious step as a Special Forces man when he went public. The spotlight rattles commanders in units much less secretive than the SAS, so the impact must have been particularly jarring for them when the 11 year SAS veteran’s name and photo appeared in the media.
Publicity can turn a military case; the reason the military rolled over on charges of desertion against me was almost certainly because we put our argument against the legality of the Afghan war as visibly as possible. As my caustic lawyer said memorably at the time “they don’t like the sunlight, Joe, it makes their slime dry up”.
I would say, however, that the brain injury Nightingale sustained on a charity hike in Brazil must have been serious indeed to forget soldiering fundamentals about weaponry and bullets. From the first time you line up on a firing range in basic training, soldiers are taught that if you have any loose rounds in your possession, you turn them over. And weapons are not to be taken home, presumably even if you are in the SAS.
Unlike our American military cousins, whose budgets and gun culture are at the Hollywood end of the spectrum, losing a single round is a terrifying prospect. A single 5.56mm round, which costs a pound or so to produce, once lost, exacts a serious financial toll on the soldier. I recall a colleague lost a magazine of twenty rounds in Afghanistan and was duly charged £250 per bullet from his meagre private’s wages.
Almost as a testament to their elite-ness, SAS soldier go under presumably self-given and (dare I say it?) slightly camp nicknames like ‘Blades' or ‘Hooligans’. But for all their undoubted mystique and shadowy martial kudos, the SAS have something of a cowboy reputation in the rest of the army.
One suspects, having spoken to ex-members regarding the retention of weapons and ammunition, that in the last month or so there is a regimental amnesty bucket somewhere near Hereford which contains more destructive firepower then Krakatoa.
One Special Forces veteran told me that “If they searched every SAS bloke the whole unit would be prosecuted. I remember handing a shit-load of ordnance in when I left.”
Sgt Nightingale’s other sensible decision, aside from courting publicity, was to get his own lawyer instead of an army one. The saga of Danny Nightingale, I have no doubts at all, will make an excellent read when his inevitable book comes out and joins the dozens of Special Forces-flavoured boy’s own adventures in Waterstones.
Which should go some way to paying off the substantial legal fee’s he has incurred.