FORMER SAS sniper Sergeant Danny Nightingale has been given a suspended sentence after being convicted for a second time for the possession of a pistol and ammunition while his family said they would take time to consider what they would do next to quash his conviction.
Nightingale was found guilty of having a 9mm Glock pistol and 338 rounds of ammunition in the bedroom of his shared army house in Hereford, and was given two years military detention suspended for 12 months.
The senior NCO walked from court a free man but, along with his wife Sally and father Humphrey, he also left with a stinging rebuke from the judge who described their 22-month campaign to clear his name as misleading and uninformed and said any notion the soldier was a scapegoat was “absolute nonsense”.
The family said they would now take time to reflect on whether there will be a further appeal in the fight, which has already cost the family £120,000 and put great strain on the couple, who have two children.
Speaking outside the Military Court in Bulford, Wiltshire, Mrs Nightingale said: “We are very disappointed with the sentence yet we are pleased that Danny will be coming home tonight.
“Obviously the judge has his own opinion. I don’t agree with what was said. I feel quite upset that it’s been suggested that we misled people because that’s one thing we have not done - we’ve been very honest and open.”
Mrs Nightingale claimed her husband was forbidden from speaking to the media by the army, but offered thanks on his behalf to those who have supported him.
The soldier’s father, Mr Nightingale, added that the remarks by Judge advocate Jeff Blackett were “a kick in the teeth to every single one of us.”
The 38-year-old from Crewe in Cheshire was originally jailed for 18 months last year but had his sentence cut and then quashed by the Court of Appeal after an outcry over his treatment.Passing sentence, Judge Blackett had strong words for those he felt had criticised the army and misled the debate about the case.
“While this case proceeded many people including you (Nightingale) have made numerous public statements, many of which were misleading.”
The judge said that Nightingale had “made up a spurious defence which falsely impugned the character of a fellow soldier and caused a number of SAS soldiers to risk their own security in giving evidence.
The judge also added: “I trust that those who have been so critical of the service prosecuting authority and the court martial process - particularly those who made unfounded and uninformed remarks under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege - now realise how inappropriate and wrong their criticisms were.”
The gun and bullets were originally said to have been brought back from Iraq and were recovered by civilian police in September 2011 in the rented house Nightingale shared.
The pistol was found in Nightingale’s wardrobe and the ammunition was under his bed in a plastic box.
Judge Blackett told Nightingale, who wore his SAS uniform in the courtroom, that his stories about how the gun came to be in his room “lacked credibility”.
But he said there were “exceptional circumstances” that allowed the court to suspend the sentence “because of your exceptional character” and that he was not a danger to society.
He said: “You are simply someone against whom there was a strong prima facie case of serious wrongdoing and, given the dangers to society caused by illegal firearms and their misuse, it was in the public interest to prosecute you.
“It would have made no difference had you been tried before a civilian jury - the evidence against you was overwhelming - and I have no doubt the verdicts would have been the same.”
The soldier has received a medical discharge which will commence on February 14 next year. Until then he remains in the army.