The wife of an SAS sergeant jailed for possessing a war trophy has called on the Prime Minister to help secure her husband’s freedom.
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
9:00PM GMT 17 Nov 2012
Sally Nightingale has asked David Cameron for “five minutes of his time” in return for her husband Danny’s 17 years of service in the Army.
Sgt Nightingale, 37, is serving an 18-month sentence for possession of a firearm after a pistol given to him by Iraqi forces he trained was found in a locked box in his Army accommodation while he was on tour.
The wife of a jailed SAS war hero has called on the Prime Minister to help free her husband
The SAS sniper had forgotten about its existence because of brain damage caused when he collapsed during an endurance sport event in which he was taking part to raise funds for the families of dead and injured SAS soldiers.
In a letter, reproduced below, Mrs Nightingale pleads with the Mr Cameron not to “ignore” her family “in the hour of our greatest need” and urges him to intervene directly into her husband’s case.
“I would like to speak to you face to face and explain in person why this sentence is such an injustice,” she says.
“Prime Minister, you can help my husband and his family. Your intervention can end his detention.”
Family photo showing Danny Nightingale aged 10
Her appeal for help from the Prime Minister comes after:
* A minister said he wanted to see “common sense” ahead of a parliamentary debate on Sgt Nightingale’s case on Tuesday;
* The soldier’s legal team prepared to submit grounds for an appeal against his conviction and sentence, and demanded that he be released on bail while they are considered;
* Sgt Nightingale was disclosed to have turned down legal aid, for which he would have been eligible, leaving his family facing mounting costs;
* Civilian police who first found the pistol were revealed to have decided it was not an issue for them and that there was no “criminal intent” on Sgt Nightingale’s part;
* Concerns were raised that attempts had been made to smear him, with other members of the SAS wrongly told that he had “stolen operational equipment”.
Danny Nightingale on holiday
The sergeant, who had served 17 years in the Army, 11 of them in the SAS, pleaded guilty to possession of a handgun earlier this month, after his quarters were searched in an unrelated incident involving another SAS member.
Civilian police found a 9mm Glock in a locked box.
It had been given to Sgt Nightingale in 2007 by Iraqi special forces. He had intended to have it deactivated and kept as a souvenir in the SAS sergeants’ mess.
But after he was ordered to accompany the bodies of two fallen comrades back to Britain, the pistol was packed with his other equipment and left in storage at SAS headquarters in Hereford.
The SAS soldier then took part in an endurance running event in Brazil to raise money for the families of dead and wounded comrades, collapsed due to over-hydration and suffered brain damage which left him with lapses in his memory, which included forgetting about the existence of the pistol.
The weapon was eventually transferred to his quarters, where it was found in the raid while he was on active service in Afghanistan.
Mr Cameron is under mounting political pressure to come to Sgt Nightingale’s aid after his conviction and 18-month sentence was revealed in The Sunday Telegraph last week.
Family photos showing Danny Nightingale as a young soldier and aged three
As well as the letter from Mrs Nightingale, a nurse with whom the sergeant has two young children, the issue has twice been raised in the House of Commons, where a full debate will be held by MPs on Tuesday.
Julian Brazier, the MP who secured the debate and a former SAS reservist officer, said: “This chap, who has given extraordinarily brave service to the country, has been treated very badly.
“I support taking a tough line on firearms but British justice has always been tempered by common sense.”
Last week Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, was questioned by Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP for New Forest East, over why Sgt Nightingale, who has dedicated most of his adult life to fighting terrorism, was jailed when Abu Qatada, the radical Muslim cleric, was freed.
Mr Grayling told the Commons: “I hope common sense will lie at the heart of every judicial decision in this country.”
Dr Lewis said: “When people like Qatada must be supported by the state, whilst people like Danny are put behind bars, our society has clearly taken leave of its senses.”
Lt Col Richard Williams, Sgt Nightingale’s former commanding officer in the SAS, has also called for his release. In a tribute, below, he describes the soldier as one of the backbones of the SAS, a man who has served his country without question and was now being badly let down by it.
An appeal against the sentence and conviction will be lodged at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday when Sgt Nightingale’s legal team, led by Simon McKay, his solicitor, will also request bail.
However, the decision to appeal will add to the family’s financial burden as Sgt Nightingale decided out of principle not to accept the legal aid to which he would have been entitled.
His wife and two young children face losing their home because his Army pay has stopped and Mrs Nightingale’s salary as a part-time nurse cannot cover their costs.
There is also growing concern over the quality of the case brought against Sgt Nightingale, and the actions of his Army superiors.
The Telegraph has learnt that the civilian West Mercia Police, which conducted the original investigation, decided not to press charges against Sgt Nightingale because “no criminal intent was suspected or could be established”.
In a separate development, a leaked email from the SAS also showed that many of Sgt Nightingale’s colleagues believed that he had been “hung out to dry”.
However, the email, which was sent to members of his squadron by a warrant officer, wrongly claimed that Sgt Nightingale stole operational equipment including weapons, body armour, radios, night vision goggles and ammunition.
The email also stated that Sgt Nightingale’s family had received £50,000 from the regiment’s charity, which was also incorrect.
The email, which also referred to another colleague, added: “No one asked them to rob ops kits from the blokes that need it… ie you! Where do we draw the line?”
The prosecution in his case agreed that Sgt Nightingale had no operational weapons, and ammunition found in the quarters were training, not operational rounds.
This newspaper has also established that the SAS sniper was ordered, against his wishes, to telephone his wife from prison to tell her not to campaign for his freedom.
The Ministry of Defence sent an email to this newspaper stating that the soldier was “horrified” at the thought of being named and dismissed the campaign as “some lawyer monkey business”.
Additionally, one Conservative MP said he was warned by a senior special forces officer “not to get involved in the case” because Sgt Nightingale was “as guilty as sin”.
Sgt Nightingale grew up in Kenya on his father’s sheep farm before moving to Britain in 1986.
He left school with nine GCSEs, and worked with disabled children before studying mental health nursing at a college in Lancashire, where he also joined the Territorial Army.
He joined the regular Army in 1995 and served in the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment before joining the SAS in 2002.
He is a qualified sniper and combat medic and has served on operations around the world including multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, he designed a combat field dressing, subsequently named the “Nightingale Dressing”, that is used by the NHS and armed forces around the world including the SAS and the US Delta Force.
The dressing, for which Sgt Nightingale has never received any money, has helped to save hundreds of lives.