AN SAS sniper put the public at risk by having a lethal arsenal hidden in the bedroom of his rented house, a court martial has heard.
Sergeant Danny Nightingale, 38, had a Glock 9mm pistol stored in his wardrobe and 338 rounds of ammunition stashed under his bed. The haul was recovered in September 2011 when police searched the father-of-two’s three-bedroom house, a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, was told.
They were acting on information they had received about Sgt Nightingale’s housemate – another SAS serviceman known only as Soldier N.
Timothy Cray, prosecuting, told the hearing Sgt Nightingale had changed his account of how the pistol and ammunition came to be stored in the civilian house.
Mr Cray said the serviceman would claim the arsenal could have been planted by somebody else but had originally said the pistol was a “trophy” brought back from Iraq.
He said Sgt Nightingale had insisted that his confusion followed a serious illness he suffered while taking part in an endurance event in Brazil in 2009, which had affected his memory.
Mr Cray told the five-strong court martial board that several serving SAS soldiers would be giving evidence anonymously during the trial, with the public and press cleared from the court.
He added: “No soldier, no matter what his experience is or what unit he is attached to, is above the law.
“In this case no-one is saying that Sgt Nightingale was a bad soldier. In fact his service career is deserving of high praise. It will, however, be the experience of the court that even good soldiers can make mistakes.
“On the specific facts alleged – that is, the defendant’s attitude to the retention of arms and ammunition – he made a series of mistakes that put the public at risk and that is why he now comes before this court martial.”
Mr Cray said Sgt Nightingale had given “various explanations” for how he came into possession of the pistol and ammunition.
“He first said that he got the gun in Iraq in 2007, that he brought it back to this country intending to present it to his unit as a trophy, but then somehow never got round to completing that task during the four years that he had the gun in the UK,” he said.
“He also said that he had accumulated the ammunition because he was a range instructor.”
Mr Cray said Sgt Nightingale would now be inviting the court to consider that his earlier explanations were “unreliable” and that “someone else could have put the gun in his wardrobe and the ammunition under his bed”.
The prosecutor said Sgt Nightingale had asked Soldier N – since jailed after admitting Firearms Act offences – to provide a statement saying he had helped him move into their shared accommodation.
“By implication [he] could have been responsible for moving the pistol into the bedroom,” Mr Cray said.
“Soldier N states that he did not move the boxes and refused to provide a statement. He later became aware that the defendant was claiming to have no memory that there was a pistol in his room. Based on his experience, Soldier N believed these claims were untrue and at odds with the attitude he himself had taken to his own possession of prohibited items.”
Sgt Nightingale, of Crewe, Cheshire, whose regiment in court was listed as The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of possession of a prohibited firearm, namely a Glock 9mm pistol, between 26 November 2007 and 16 September 2011.
He also denies possession on or about 16 September 2011 of ammunition, namely 122 9mm live rounds, 40 7.62mm live rounds, 50 9mm frangible rounds, 50 .338 armour piercing live rounds, two .308 live rounds and 74 5.56mm live rounds.
The trial continues.