A Royal Marine who fatally shot an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan was suffering from an “abnormality of mental functioning” at the time of the killing, an appeal court has ruled.
As five judges reduced Sergeant Alexander Blackman’s murder conviction to manslaughter, they found that the 2011 incident was not a “cold-blooded execution” as a court martial had earlier concluded, but the result of a mental illness - an “adjustment disorder”.
Blackman, 42, from Taunton, Somerset, had his murder conviction overturned by the Court Martial Appeal Court in London and replaced with a verdict of “manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility”.
There will now be a further hearing at a date to be fixed to decide on the sentence he now has to serve.
Blackman, who was not present for the ruling, was convicted in November 2013 by a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 10 years. That term was later reduced to eight years because of the combat stress disorder he was suffering from.
After the latest decision in the case was announced by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas on Wednesday, Blackman’s wife Claire said she was “delighted”, adding: “This is a crucial decision and one which better reflects the circumstances my husband found himself in during that terrible tour in Afghanistan.”
The judges said Blackman had been “an exemplary soldier before his deployment to Afghanistan in March 2011”, but had “suffered from quite exceptional stressors” during his deployment .
In reaching their decision on the conviction appeal, they had considered “what led the appellant to kill the insurgent at a time when he was incapacitated”.
The “key issue” was whether it was a “cold-blooded execution” as the court martial board concluded on the evidence before them, or whether it was the result of “a substantial impairment of his ability to form a rational judgement or exercise self-control arising from his adjustment disorder”.
They ruled: “In our view, the adjustment disorder had put the appellant in the state of mind to kill, but the fact that he acted with apparent careful thought as to how to set about the killing had to be seen within the overarching framework of the disorder which had substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgement.”
The court said: “There can be little doubt that on 15 September 2011, the appellant was angry and vengeful and had a considerable degree of hatred for the wounded insurgent.
“On prior deployments, similar emotions had been controlled by him. The appellant’s decision to kill was probably impulsive and the adjustment disorder had led to an abnormality of mental functioning that substantially impaired his ability to exercise self-control.”
They said: “In our judgement the adjustment disorder from which he was suffering at the time also impaired his ability to exercise self-control.”
They concluded: “Given his prior exemplary conduct, we have concluded that it was the combination of the stressors, the other matters to which we have referred and his adjustment disorder that substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgment.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “We have fully co-operated with each stage of Sergeant Blackman’s case, which has now involved a criminal investigation, a court martial and the appeal process, and will continue to provide personal support to the family, as we have done since charges were first brought.
“We respect the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on it.”