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Wife stands by soldier husband after watching video of him shoot dead Taliban prisoner

Wife stands by soldier husband after watching video of him shoot dead Taliban prisoner

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The first time Claire Blackman watched the video of her husband shooting dead a Taliban insurgent, they were in court – and he would soon be convicted of murder.

But as the nation argued about whether Sgt Alexander Blackman, now 45, was a national disgrace or a national hero, she never wavered in her backing for the man she knew as ‘big softie Al’.

Her ­support would go on to save his life as he ­wrestled with despair on suicide watch in prison.

The grainy footage she saw shows him in the ­middle of scrubland in Helmand ­Province, firing his pistol into the chest of a horrifically injured fighter at point-blank range.

‘Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***,’ the Royal Marine can be heard muttering.

Lance Cpl Alexander Blackman says it was a ‘moment of madness’ that led to him killing the insurgent

Claire Blackman watched the video for the first time in court

 

It was without doubt disturbing viewing and the key piece of evidence which resulted in him being found guilty.

With that, Al – known during the trial as Marine A – became the first ­British ­serviceman or woman to be convicted of ­murder on a b­attlefield since the Second World War.

Born in Brighton, he had served in the Royal Marines for 16 years, ­completing six operational tours of duty in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, which, over the years, was a country he got to know well.

What he describes now as a ‘moment of madness’, changed his and his family’s lives for ever.

Battlefield

He was well used to seeing the effects of bombs on the battlefield, but this day was different.

An Apache helicopter had opened fire and, as they checked on the wounded, the sergeant was informed that one particular insurgent was badly injured.

The helmet-cam footage that was shown in court 1/3 – Blackman can be seen on patrol in Afghanistan

 

He explains what he saw…

‘I looked at him,’ Al recalls.

‘What scant signs of life there had been were barely ­perceptible – I watched him for the longest time, the lads increasingly jumpy around me. Other insurgents were close by and we were out in the open, we were targets.

‘A thought that had been growing in me began to ­solidify – there was no way this insurgent could make it back to any military hospital alive – I could see his lungs through his wounds.’

‘The chain gun on the Apache helicopter wasn’t a weapon that anything as frail as a ­human body could ever survive. It was a ­wonder he had lasted this long.

‘His life seemed already gone.’

‘We moved the man to wait for the helicopter to get him to ­hospital, but, sure that any last breath in his body had dwindled away, I took to the radio and ­reported he’d died.’

‘And then I shot him.’

The headcam footage that was shown in court 2/3 – Blackman was filmed shooting the insurgent

Al was used to the procedure that followed.

The ­operation wrapped up over the next couple of days and the ­excitement of ­returning home to Claire was ­bubbling.

Once he landed home after this ­particular stint, though, his ­behaviour started to shift.

‘Initially I felt so relieved to be back with my family,’ he explains.

‘But walking around ­Weymouth town centre, I heard Claire ask, “Why?” – I realised it was ­because she’d seen my eyes ­darting down, my gaze focusing on the ground beneath my feet with every step I took.’

‘I was here, in ­England, yet I was ­looking for IEDs ­everywhere.’

‘l was eventually ­diagnosed with “adjustment disorder”.’

‘If he’d stayed in the war zone any longer, he could have degenerated to the point where he had a lasting post-traumatic stress disorder.’

The headcam footage that was shown in court 3/3 – Blackman was found guilty of murdering the man

He’d seen the way it debilitated others.

He’d seen the way it could colour a life.

At once he felt fortunate that his time in ­Helmand had come to an end.

The arrest

A year later, on a lazy Saturday morning, Al and Claire’s lives were turned upside down by a knock at the door.

‘A policeman was stood at the door,’ Al says.

‘He said, “Sgt Blackman, I’m arresting you on suspicion of war crimes”.’

‘They also had a warrant to search my home.’

‘I calmly let them in.’

‘I was certain I hadn’t done anything to ­warrant military police searching my home.’

‘Claire looked very confused and panic only set in when they took my old ­BlackBerry phone and asked me to get in the car down to the station.’

The officers explained they had video evidence that he had committed a war crime in Afghanistan.

He froze in silence.

When he was shown the video, and heard the abusive words he’d muttered, he struggled to place the day in his mind.

What happened next was his worst nightmare.

‘The police dropped me home and I had to tell Claire what had happened,’ says Al.

‘She listened patiently in silence, but as I told her the story there was dissociation in my head, as though it wasn’t me there that day.’

An in-depth trial followed, where his legal team suggested that Claire did not watch the ­footage – filmed on a headcam – when it was shown in court.

Wife Claire has stood by her husband all the way through

Her husband was anxious about her reaction, admitting, ‘I was nervous, it’s not my finest hour – there was a worry she would see me in a different way.’

But Claire, 47, did not waver for a second in her love and respect for him.

She insists, ‘I never had to ask why – rightly or wrongly, I honestly didn’t.’

‘While it was not pleasant viewing, I didn’t feel it was my place to judge.’

She stood by him as the public debate raged, but after a two-week trial he was ­sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in jail.

When Claire visited him, he told her he’d understand if she wanted to walk away from their relationship and get on with her life.

‘It isn’t right, Claire,’ he said.

‘You shouldn’t have to do this… not for me – I’d never hold it against you.’

But her hand tightened on his, and she told him, ‘I never want to hear about it again, do you hear?’

‘I never want to hear you offer ­anything as stupid again – I’m here, aren’t I?’

Al has written a book, Marine A: The Truth About The Murder Conviction, describing his ­experience.

In it, he talks about prison being the darkest time of his life, revealing, ‘I was on suicide watch for a couple of months. I was ­depressed… with lots of time alone to dwell on things.’

At a military prison in Colchester, Essex, he slept under strip lights, and was observed through a one-way mirror.

He was told to keep his arms above the covers and woken by intercom if he did not to ‘make sure that I was still alive’.

In a civilian cell, he continued to be checked, and a service light was turned on every ‘15 minutes, half hour, hour’.

‘Knowing I had Claire really did save me,’ Al says solemnly.

Combat stress

Former and serving members of the armed forces take part in a rally in support of support of Sgt Alexander Blackman

 

On top of his conviction, he was also ­dishonourably discharged from the Army.

But after more than three years in ­prison – and with the help of a ­campaign that raised £800,000 – his murder ­conviction was ­reduced on appeal to ­manslaughter.

New evidence had shown he had ­adjustment disorder, a form of combat stress.

He had not been given a mental health assessment before his trial.

His 10-year ­minimum term was cut to seven years and he was freed in April 2017.

‘Tears are a great release,’ says Claire.

‘There were times I wanted that feeling, but it just didn’t happen.’

‘At first it was too hard even to cry.’

‘Almost the day he came home it felt as if it hadn’t ­happened, it went back to being us.’

Now the couple are trying to put the incident behind them, enjoying walks with their dog Dave in Somerset.

Buying the dog was one of the first things they did on Al’s release.

He’s helped him open up about his experiences.

They considered ­taking further action against the sentence, but decided not to.

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‘We have to let go of it, there’s no anger, it doesn’t keep you warm at night, it doesn’t make you a better person, it just consumes you,’ says Al.

Instead, they are intent only on ­pursuing peace and contentment.

Al is happily ­retired, although he is a trustee of the ­charity Go ­Commando, which supports Royal ­Marines and their ­families, and has done work with a company helping ­veterans find employment.

But he will never forget his experiences of war.

 Just as – whatever our views of this tragic case – we must never forget the thousands who have sacrificed their lives, limbs or mental health to keep us safe.  

Sgt Blackman tells his story in the book

– Get 10% off Marine A: The Truth About The Murder Conviction (RRP £8.99) with offer code R10. Plus P&P. Call 01256 302 699 or order online at mirrorbooks.co.uk (Free P&P on orders over £15)








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