Why did Sgt. Nightingale think he was innocent?

For the occasional reader that I have from abroad (there aren’t many!), I will start with a short summary of the Sgt. Nightingale case as I understand it. My account is drawn 100% from media reports so I would caution any reader against taking the facts of the case as totally accurate but I believe the point I’m making isn’t really affected by any minor inaccuracies. 

In September last year, apparently acting on a tip-off, police searched the rented army home of Sgt. Danny Nightingale. During the search they found a Glock 9mm pistol and 300 rounds of ammunition for it. Sgt. Nightingale was arrested and subsequently charged with illegal possession of the firearm. He originally admitted the offence and was sentenced to 18 months in military detention. On appeal that sentence was reduced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for a year (a wholly appropriate sentence in my opinion). Then, for reasons I am unable to establish but undoubtedly at Sgt. Nightingale’s behest, the Court of Appeal later quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial. At that second trial he pleaded not guilty and was, on Wednesday of this week, found guilty and thus convicted for a second time.

My question then, as defined in the title of this post is:

“Why did Sgt. Nightingale (or anyone else for that matter) think he was innocent?”

After the tragic Dunblane shootings in 1996 the law governing the possession of firearms in this country was changed. The offence that Danny Nightingale was charged with is a simple one and, compared to many offences on the UK statute books, a relatively easy one to prove. A 9mm Glock is a weapon prohibited by the act and he had possession of it. That’s it. As far as I know there are few, if any, defences to that charge.

The fact that he is (or maybe ‘was’ by now) a soldier and at one time may have had lawful possession of the gun is, in my opinion, entirely and utterly irrelevant. Likewise his army record, however brave he has been and wherever he has served with great honour, may be a fine reflection on his character and might be the reason the original sentence was reduce to a suspended one but it is nothing to do with his guilt or innocence in this case.

I understand he claimed at his retrial that he was going to have it ‘decommissioned’ and forgot to do so. More irrelevancy but if that were the case, why did he have 300 rounds of ammunition for the gun? Even if he had done that days after returning to the UK, he would still have committed the offence in the time he possessed it before having it ‘neutralised’.

In some newspaper articles on Thursday Sgt. Nightingale is quoted as having apologised to the tax-payer for the cost of his original trial, the two appeals and his retrial. I think estimates of the cost to the public for these sort of cases are usually inaccurate and fairly uninformative but it must be tens of thousands of pounds if not hundreds. He also claimed that the financial burden of clearing his name has crippled his family.

I understand why Danny Nightingale appealed against the original sentence: I think 18 months imprisonment for such an offence and assuming he was of previous good character is very harsh. As I wrote earlier, I believe a 12 month suspended sentence is exactly what he should have got. What I don’t understand is why he then appealed against the conviction knowing the evidence and surely knowing he would be retried. He has wasted both his family’s and the public’s money.

One thought on “Why did Sgt. Nightingale think he was innocent?

  1. My understanding is that his defence was that he had no knowledge of the weapon due to a brain injury that occurred during his service. That is not to justify it, and in any case I always thought possession of a firearm (and / or ammunition) was a strict liability offence, at least in civilain law. Not sure how this works and presumably he was tried by a military tribunal. Would also be interesting to know how the initial information came about as this might have influenced his defence. It seems slightly political in that the Army seems to have wanted to crack down on the SAS because of a perceived culture of impunity. Good that his sentence has been reduced to a more just level. By all accounts he was of good character and service, although he also appears to have effective PR support

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