One in three people believes that a Royal Marine sentenced to life in prison for executing a Taliban fighter in cold blood should serve no jail time, a poll has found – but 65% said he should have been jailed and over 20% thought the ten years he received wasn’t long enough.
A total of 35% of respondents wanted Sgt Alexander Blackman to serve no jail sentence, 23% believed he should do five years, 20% were in favour of 10 years, while 22% thought he should be imprisoned for more than 10 years, the Mail on Sunday reported.
It comes as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that 11 separate inquiries would be held into cases of Iraqis who died in British custody.
The online poll of 900 people conducted by Survation found that asked a more general question 39% of voters said they disagreed with Blackman’s 10-year minimum life sentence, while 37% were in favour.
Commenting on the poll, Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister and current MP for army garrison town Aldershot, said he agreed the sentence was too harsh.
‘The highest standard of discipline must be maintained in the armed forces and this man obviously committed an offence,” Sir Gerald told the MoS. “But 10 years is too much. Five years would be more appropriate.”
Sir Gerald said that the court should have taken the marine’s “fine record” following several tours of duty into account when handing down his sentence.
But arguing in favour of Blackman’s punishment, former Lib Dem leader and ex-Royal Marine Lord Ashdown said he was content with the judge’s decision to follow the law.
An order banning the naming of Blackman, 39, was lifted by High Court judges after he was found guilty at a court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire.
Former senior officers and MPs reacted against that decision, amid claims that he may need protection from Islamists in prison, the Sunday Telegraph said.
Lord West of Spithead, a former first lord of the Admiralty, told the newspaper: “This is a man who has put his life on the line many times. I am not sure due account has been taken of this.”
Blackman, a respected senior non-commissioned officer with 15 years’ experience, was convicted last month following a two-week court martial in which his two co-accused, known only as Marines B and C, were acquitted of murder.
He was also ”dismissed with disgrace” from the Royal Marines.
The killing happened five months into an arduous six-month tour of Helmand province in 2011 with Plymouth-based 42 Commando, known as Operation Herrick 14.
Blackman, a 6ft 3in physically imposing marine, shot the Afghan, who had been seriously injured in an attack by an Apache helicopter, in the chest at close range with a 9mm pistol.
Calls for him to be treated more leniently came as the MoD announced that it had began to organise 11 “semi-inquests” into cases of death in British custody in Iraq following a ruling by the High Court.
An MoD spokesman said: “All serious allegations of mistreatment are investigated by the independent Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), who has the power to recommend prosecution where appropriate.
“We do not accept on current knowledge that it will be necessary to hold quasi-inquests into other cases that were not identified by the court.
“The department will be reviewing this position once IHAT has investigated the claims to see what further investigation needs to be undertaken to comply with Article 3.”
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national prisons newspaper for England and Wales said he felt it was ‘absolutely right’ Blackman should have been jailed.
Mr Leech said: “If murder is wrong then its ‘wrong’; right?
“This poll shows that 65% of the public questioned think it was absolutely right he was jailed, I agree with that, and over 20% think a tariff of ten years wasnt long enough – but its about right when the sentencing guidelines are considered.
“The fact is Blackman clearly knew what he was doing, and he knew it was wrong – he said so himself.
“He was in a difficult situation but don’t forget he was convicted by a Courts Martial – convicted by fellow soldiers who know better than anyone what he was going through and they said he’d crossed the line into murder – if anyone should know they should know.”