The army, MoD and SAS have all been bruised during the tense and sometimes bitter trial of the former sniper
On a Friday afternoon in September 2011 police officers broke into a suburban house on a quiet road in the west of England.
They were working on a tipoff that weapons and ammunition had been stashed at the address but were still shocked at what they found.
In a wardrobe of the back bedroom they discovered a 9mm Glock pistol and in a plastic container under the bed there were more than 300 rounds of ammunition.
The officers discovered a similar Glock and more ammunition in the front bedroom. Down in the garage there was a “bombmaker’s kit”, including a timer. A live grenade was nestling in a pot on a shelf. In a lean-to officers found a gun barrel and silencer, while there was even a live round in a pen holder in the kitchen and flares in the conservatory.
The house (its exact location cannot be given for security reasons) must have seemed like a terrorists’ lair. In fact it was the home to two men regarded as among the UK army’s best and bravest: SAS operatives Sergeant Danny Nightingale and his close friend and comrade, who can be identified only as “N”.
The pair, who were serving in Afghanistan at the time, were hauled in front of a senior officer and ordered to pack their bags and go home to explain to West Mercia detectives what they were up to.
On the flight back they knew they were in deep trouble – they faced five years in jail for illegal possession of weapons and a dishonourable discharge from the army.
Within days they were giving similar stories back in Hereford, where the SAS has its regimental headquarters. They both told police detectives they had imported the Glocks from Iraq as war trophies. Explaining the ammunition, they said they were range instructors and had carelessly stockpiled leftover munitions rather than taking them back to camp.
Nightingale’s confession seemed unequivocal. He said he had been gifted the pistol in 2007 by Iraqis he had helped train. “I apologise profusely,” he said. On the ammunition he said: “I haven’t got any excuse.”
West Mercia police was satisfied the pair had not hoarded the items with criminal intentions and handed the case over to the military authorities.
At his court martial last year N accepted responsibility for most of the items found at the house, except for the pistol and ammunition in the back bedroom, where Nightingale slept. He was sentenced to two years’ military detention.
It emerged that he had suffered severe brain damage after falling into a coma while taking part in a fundraising endurance run in the Amazon in 2009. Psychiatrists had told him he “confabulated” – unconsciously imagined stories to fill in gaps in his memory.
But he admitted the offences after the court suggested to …read more