Danny Nightingale: SAS man who will not stop fighting

Danny Nightingale Danny Nightingale is now faced with a difficult choice over whether to appeal

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Back in 2005, after an RAF flight back from Iraq shared with A Squadron of 22 SAS (the British Army's regular Special Forces regiment), I got a small insight into the processes surrounding weapons and how they were not always obeyed to the letter.

Arriving at RAF Brize Norton one of the squadron's grizzled NCO's sidled up to a customs man and said: "We've got three GPMGs that aren't on the manifest. That's not a problem is it?"

I thought it was a telling revelation - the weapons, General Purpose Machine Guns, are high powered items that could cause carnage in the wrong hands.

The Customs man was unconcerned though, some scribbles were made on a clipboard and the A Squadron guys, who in contrast to the rest of the military on the flight were wearing civilian clothes, picked up their holdalls and boarded their coach back to Hereford.

One might think it was one small example of the SAS playing fast and loose with strict rules concerning weapons shipments, exploiting the kind of latitude it enjoys as an elite formation, something that often irks other members of the forces.

Or you might see it as evidence that even "the Regiment", coming back from an operational tour in Iraq, knew that the paperwork had to be done properly and were belatedly putting things right with customs because they knew they had to.

Talking to Sgt Danny Nightingale, an SAS soldier found guilty of illegally possessing a gun and ammunition, he objects to the idea that things were ever played fast and loose in A Squadron:

"You signed everything in," he says, referring to the paperwork completed at armouries, "and you signed everything out".

Yet despite, he insists, adhering to these procedures he was convicted on Wednesday of possessing a Glock pistol and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He has yet to be sentenced and is deciding whether to appeal the verdict delivered at Bulford Military Court.

It is the second time he has been convicted - the first was quashed after a campaign by Sgt Nightingale's wife Sally. Some have detected in the decision to proceed a second time, a vendetta on the part of the military to get even after the public outcry at his first conviction.

He says he is being made an example of to show that bringing unauthorised weapons back from operational tours can never be sanctioned, and that this rule applies to the SAS as well as everyone else.

Some have detected in the MoD's zeal to proceed against the sergeant evidence of a wider drive on the part of ministers and civil servants to cut the Special Forces down to size again after 12 years in which they have engaged in high tempo operations, enjoying considerable autonomy as well as kudos.

In deciding to speak to Newsnight and some other media outlets today, Sgt Nightingale acknowledges that as a still serving member of the SAS, he may cause further upset at the MoD, but is determined to prove his innocence.

His quest has been made all the harder by the police interview he gave after the weapon was found at his home two years ago in which he admitted bringing it back from Iraq as a war trophy.

Today he says that he has no recollection of bringing it back but was simply going along with what colleagues told him must be the explanation, his own memory having been damaged after collapsing after a marathon in the Amazon, suffering seizures and brain damage.

Although Sgt Nightingale acknowledges there was a widespread practice of bringing back trophies - that were then de-commissioned so that they were safe before being mounted on plaques or presented as gifts - he says he has absolutely no memory of receiving the Glock pistol nor did it show any trace of his fingerprints or DNA.

Another SAS soldier who he shared the house with has already been disciplined for possessing a similar undeclared pistol.

Where does the sergeant go from here? He says that an appeal, if lost, might mean financial ruin for himself and his wider family. Why not just take the sentence, I ask? And it is clear that this is precisely the kind of awful choice that he is now trying to make.

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 136.


    "I DO believe her. . . . . And you are foul for calling someone you don't know a liar!"

    I may be foul but for different reasons. I'm not calling her a liar, I'm pointing out the idea that 6 out of 10 people in the UK own a gun is nonsense.

    I have many friends, 60% of them do not possess guns. I doubt one of them does. Do you live in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    #134 If possible the army try to keep wounded veterans in support & admin jobs like quartermaster etc. Johnson BeHarry VC also received brain damage (an anti-tank weapon hit him in the head during the action when he won his medal)

    Doubtless this will also be downmarked as I'm not baying for blood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    What happened to Sir Ranulph Wykeham Twistleton-Fiennes when he was in the SAS and found guilty of possessing explosives and ammunition (stored in a left-luggage locker in a London station, if I recall correctly)?
    More worryingly, this incident has ended the career of Sgt Nightingale but the 'severe brain damage' acquired in the Amazon did not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Just to clarify a few facts not made clear by the BBC. The pistol (a Glock) used 9mm rounds. The 300 rounds seized were a weird selection of ammo of half a dozen types. There were only a few rounds of 9mm so most of the ammo was useless. Equally 300 rounds isn't a lot by military standards. I'd shoot 2-400 in a TA exercise. The SAS can get through 1000 a day training.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I was a former TA soldier. My SA80 rifle used to jam if you put 30 rounds into the 30 round magazine so when firing I got into the habit of loading 28 and quickly trying to reload the final rounds at the end of the shoot. Once I walked off with 6 live rounds in my pocket which I discovered when ironing my uniform the next day, They were quietly returned & no action taken. Its easily done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Our tax is being used to pay for these weapons which could mean the difference between a soldier having body armour or not. The MOD themselves though waste money like all gov organisations ie police, NHS councils/ planning etc Selling off housing at low prices is just one example. How many of thes people "aquire! a computer, take bribes for "services". Also MPs expenses for free meals,housing etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.


    "military grade" grenades
    There are "civilian grade" grenades? Probably be more bank for the buck than the lowest bidder stuff the MoD buys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    It is estimated that 1500 weapons a year are brought back illegally to this country by army personnel, many of which are sold on to the criminal gangs in this country. Some of these weapons have already been used in murders, robberies and other violent crimes. It is time for deterrent sentences to combat this vile trade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    He could have took a load of cruise missiles home, as long as he doesn't use them it won't do any harm. I also think it shouldn't necessarily be a crime to carry a knife, I'm sure most people who carry a knife do so for protection because they are afraid of the people who carry knives to hurt people. If the Dalai Lama started carrying a knife he'd still be a good bloke who wouldn't stab anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I sympathise with someone who risks his life for UK. I understand how his high-octane role might make it difficult for him to take seriously civilian rules. It seems he was suffering from a neurological problem when he returned to UK & his housemate is suspect, having been caught for a similar offense. How does the magistrate explain the lack of DNA evidence? I'm not convinced by this conviction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    War hero yes,but no more than many peoples grandads.Old guns still being used in crimes now.In the wrong hands "military grade" grenades were used to kill those policewomen.Yes some come from eastern europe etc,but soldiers bringing them home dont help.He doesnt deserve jail and will easily get a job in security.He made a mistake and got caught,but the message is sent out.Dont do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    This guy suffers memory loss, had been suffering seizures and brain damage in the past ... I don't think he should be in possession of a deadly weapon do you ?
    If this is wide spread it needs to be stopped because, like it or not, this is probably where a lot of the unlicensed firearms used in crime come from

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I have some sympathy as he has, in his own words, suffered serious brain trauma

    However if you just look at the facts:
    - He had a functioning fire-arm.
    - He had 300 rounds of ammo.
    - He had suffered serious brain trauma.

    That is a recipe for disaster. If we start making exceptions to the law on owning firearms for current/former service personnel then eventually we will end up with a disaster!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Regardless of his occupation he broke the law & got caught. What other professions do people think should be above the law? Doctors? Teachers? Policeman? Fireman? If this were a random bloke caught with an automatic weapon & 300 rounds people would be saying 'lock him up & throw away the key'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Unless she works for a specialist insurer that's plainly absolute tripe.

    On topic, I find it hard to have sympathy for him, Rules are rules and we've seen numberous apparently mentally stable people flip with weapons before. Not saying he will but that's not the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Royal pardon anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    not blogger's fault that many show lack of exposure or connection with HM forces; after all its a BBC blog site opened to general public.

    such news exposure is rare, many shipping details from 1st & 2nd gulf war, Bosnia etc. will remain as unit's secret.

    I suspect both Nightingale & MOD are caught in a catch-22 position, no more options for off-record settlement but to go through due process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.


    No, Dorset UK. . . . . .Bury your heads in the sand if you wish. . . . . .then shout and scream when things kick off. . . . .So typical, and one of the reasons the country is in this mess. . . . . .Denial!

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    This is a tricky one:
    If he genuinely did take home an illegal weapon and, to make matters worse, the ammunition: then (subsequent memory-loss or not) he broke the law, and he should be punished accordingly - being in the SAS isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    Colour me cynical, but 'memory loss' is the defendant's version of the script writer's 'they woke up and it was all a dream.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    As an ex-soldier I know that Sgt Nightingale would have known the regulations surrounding this.

    He knew the rules. He chose to break them.


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