SAS man Danny Nightingale released by Court of Appeal

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Media captionSgt Danny Nightingale: I want to thank my wife and my supporters for their trust and support

An SAS sniper has been released after his 18 month sentence for illegally possessing a pistol was cut and suspended by the Court of Appeal.

Sgt Danny Nightingale, from Crewe, admitted possessing the 9mm Glock pistol and 338 rounds of ammunition at a court martial earlier this month.

The judges heard Nightingale had forgotten he had the gun and cut his sentence to 12 months and suspended it.

Walking free from court, he thanked his family for "their trust and support".

The father of two, who has served in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, paid tribute to his wife Sally, 38, who cried when the verdict was delivered.

'Amazingly courageous'

Nightingale said: "What I need to do firstly and foremostly is to say thank you so much to my wife, my family and my close family and friends, for their trust and their support to me.

"I think they've been amazingly courageous.

"I think they've been very dignified in all that they've done, and I am thankful.

"Secondly, to my legal team, and thirdly to the great British public and the world audience far further afield.

"They've been absolutely wonderful in their support."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the "justice system had worked".

The MP said: "I am delighted for Sgt Nightingale and his family that he will be home not only before Christmas as they'd hoped, but by the end of November.

"The Court of Appeal has decided the sentence was too harsh and has freed him."

Image caption The soldier had said he was given the gun as a present in Iraq

'Life at risk'

The soldier's family and friends had argued he only pleaded guilty at the court martial after being warned he could face up to five years' detention if found guilty in a trial.

Nightingale had said he was given the gun as a present in Iraq.

His lawyer, William Clegg QC, said he did not pack the weapon and, because of a brain injury, he had forgotten he still had it.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Mr Justice Fulford and Mr Justice Bean heard legal argument at a hearing in the Court Martial Appeal Court.

One of the judges said the ammunition, discovered along with the pistol at Nightingale's Army accommodation near Hereford, was "a substantial amount".

But the court was told there had been "no intention to use the ammunition".

Mr Clegg said that "for service members such as Sgt Nightingale, it was usual to be around ammunition, especially for a man who spends all his professional life around guns and ammunition".

Former SAS commander, Lt Col Richard Williams, gave a character reference, describing Nightingale as an "exceptional soldier" who stood out for his "compassionate nature".

Col Williams referred to a type of dressing for a chest wound which Nightingale had invented and now bears his name.

Mr Clegg added that "the defendant has not sought any money for the Nightingale dressing though it is now widely used".

Lord Judge said the appeal panel was satisfied that the sentence could be reduced because the offences were "committed in exceptional circumstances by an exceptional soldier".

Judges will rule on whether Nightingale's convictions should be overturned at a later date.

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