Marine A: The Inside Story Panorama


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Marine A: The Inside Story

Alexander Blackman has had his murder conviction for shooting an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan reduced to manslaughter. Panorama re-examines the events.


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Alexander Blackman, better known as Marine A,

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has been serving a life sentence for the murder

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of a badly injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.

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Get him out!

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After a long appeal process, the judges now believe

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he was suffering from a form of combat stress at the time,

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and today have reduced his murder verdict to manslaughter.

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But now, as the former Royal Marine sergeant awaits resentencing,

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there are aspects of this story that remain untold and unexplained.

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I'm going to take you back to his battlefield...

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..and into the mind of the men who served with Blackman.

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It's the first time they've spoken publicly about the details

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of what happened on that fateful day in 2011.

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Everyone that was speaking on the radio was sending out

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a signal to Al.

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Everyone wanted that guy to be dead.

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It was a bloody tough tour.

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For every individual man

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there's a point at which he's had too much or seen too much

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or he's too tired or he's too stressed,

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and that's a fact for everybody.

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I'm asking you straight, now,

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would you think that what happened that day

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was the only time that happened in the Afghan war?

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No.

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Her Majesty's Royal Marines have a proud history

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that goes back over 350 years.

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The battle honours are wide and varied.

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They're the country's only dedicated commando force,

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and always at the sharp end of combat in all the major conflicts.

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So you can imagine the events of September 15th, 2011,

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had a huge impact on the Royal Marines -

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one of their own becoming the first British serviceman

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to be convicted of murder on the battlefield.

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But as of today, murder is now manslaughter

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on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

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Now, I've met Blackman several times and I've spoken to him in prison.

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At first it seemed he was caught red-handed because, unknown to him,

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the entire incident was filmed on another marine's helmet camera.

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GUNFIRE

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Now, for legal reasons, most of this footage

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you're not allowed to see, just hear.

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And I have to tell you, it's harrowing stuff.

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Marines dragging a bloodied,

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barely conscious enemy across a field,

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discussion about whether to treat him as the rules of war

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demanded that they should.

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Some chat there about whether he was actually dead or not.

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And at the time, at least two of the marines are brandishing

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their pistols quite threateningly around the prone enemy fighter.

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Then, quietly and deliberately,

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one marine, Alexander Blackman,

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steps forward and shoots the enemy in the chest at close range.

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GUNSHOT

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The insurgent contorts horribly and eventually dies.

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It seemed like an open-and-shut case,

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guilty as charged.

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But let's look beyond the pictures,

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of the hidden story no helmet camera could ever have seen.

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Rob Driscoll fought alongside Alexander Blackman in Afghanistan,

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on a tour of duty he will never forget.

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How has it been since Afghanistan?

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Pretty tough, I'll be honest.

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I've had my ups and downs.

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Afghan, I think it's ultimately contributed

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to the breakdown of my marriage.

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I think, physically,

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I suffered with anxiety and, you know,

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it's only within the last couple of years, really,

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that I've not suffered sleep-wise.

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So I think it had a huge, huge impact.

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In many ways, for Driscoll, it was a tour from hell.

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That is why he put into storage anything and everything

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that reminded him of that terrible time.

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But then he told me he had something he wanted to show me.

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He said he might still have the radio logs

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from the actual day of the killing.

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No, it's not in there, Chris,

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which means it's probably buried under there somewhere.

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Driscoll had not seen the logs for five years,

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and probably thought he'd never need to see them again -

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a handwritten record of radio messages,

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a sort of war diary,

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and a tangible link to the battlefield

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that might give us some clues to the lead-up to the day in question,

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15th September, 2011.

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10th September, we were involved in a firefight,

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11th of September, we were involved in a firefight.

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Two firefights on 11th September.

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12th of September, a firefight.

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14th of September, we were in a firefight, and this was...

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Grenades were thrown.

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And actually, just talking about this,

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I can feel, you know, my heart kind of, you know,

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getting a little bit more how it would have been on the day.

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You can just kind of get a feel for the intensity.

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In 2011, Sergeant Rob Driscoll was part of 42 Commando,

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a 650-strong unit of Royal Marines,

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deployed to one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

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The year before in Helmand,

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a big military surge pushed through the district of Nad-e-Ali,

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forcing the insurgents from south to north.

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And so it was here, in Nad-e-Ali North,

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where the insurgency was concentrated

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and at its most threatening,

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that 42 Commando is deployed.

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650 men divided into four separate companies.

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It was near the beginning of their six-month tour

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that I myself embedded with 42 Commando as a film-maker.

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I'd worked many times in Afghanistan during the 13-year conflict,

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but now, I was about to find out

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that it had become a very different sort of war.

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The insurgents' choice of weapon had become the IED -

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improvised explosive devices hidden in the ground.

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Murderous, maiming and almost impossible to second-guess.

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On the night I arrived in Camp Bastion,

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the main British base, I was just in time to film

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some of 42 Commando embark on a very dangerous mission.

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Right, fellas, start getting in your order.

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These men were drawn from Juliet, or J Company.

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This was Alexander Blackman's company.

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On the flatbed.

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Now, he wasn't there that night, but he was staying back to help

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defend his checkpoint from enemy attack.

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But these men, Blackman's comrades,

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had been tasked to establish

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a new British outpost deep in enemy territory.

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I grabbed a last-minute interview

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with Major Steve McCulley, officer commanding the J Company.

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We'll take over the compound,

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establish a temporary checkpoint,

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and then from there,

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for a period of seven to ten days,

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we'll conduct fighting patrols

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and lure the insurgents into our location as best we can.

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How are you feeling yourself?

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Yeah, I mean, I'd be lying if I wasn't slightly apprehensive,

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because, you know, it's a very cheeky operation.

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We're there to disrupt the insurgents,

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and so it's a high level of risk.

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But, you know, that's the name of the game,

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that's what we're in business for.

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Within a week, two marines and an interpreter had been killed

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and several more marines had suffered life-changing injuries,

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including Steve McCulley himself.

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Basically tore my chest apart -

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ribs, lung, right lung, broken femur, patella, tibia.

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They cut me open, split my rib cage and they dug out

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as much shrapnel, body armour, clothing, mud, as they could.

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Stapled me together, put me in an induced coma on a ventilator

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and kind of thought,

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"Well, we'll get him back to the UK and let them decide the best way,

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"whether they take out the whole lung there and then or leave it."

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So, again, yeah...

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The emotional impact for Al Blackman, you know,

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it would have been horrific

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sitting back

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and getting that information fed,

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drip-fed down the radio,

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that people that you like,

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you've drunk with, you've socialised with,

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and, to an element,

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you probably love in a brotherly kind of way,

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have been torn to shreds, you know,

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less than 4km away from where you are.

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They would've heard the blasts.

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They know that those deaths would've been fairly horrific.

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When you start losing guys,

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whether they've been killed or injured, you know, it's...

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Cohesion can be built or lost around those types of situations.

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Thousands of people have been to Afghanistan,

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but there's just hundreds that have been involved

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in fierce combat, and those hundreds,

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it's the same guys over and over again.

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Not only have they done it day in, day out,

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they've done it on multiple tours.

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I don't care what anyone says,

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the more times you're subjected to those situations...

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..you have to get harder, but the harder it is to deal with.

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Just days after J Company had sustained such serious casualties,

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I flew in with the relieving company to the very outpost

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that Steve McCulley's men had established at such great cost.

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His men returned to their bases close by.

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But it was here,

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in what was described as the most dangerous square mile in the world,

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that I was to get a taste

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of what this unforgiving war was like for these marines.

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Patrols were sent out twice a day, without fail.

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IEDs were everywhere.

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So every footfall was a dice with death.

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That's why the marines call patrolling "Afghan roulette".

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And all this in 50 degrees of heat,

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even more in the corn fields where we often took cover.

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It's twice as hot as it is outside,

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the heat is enclosed in here.

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And it's absolutely...

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..unspeakably hot, sweltering.

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Markers here.

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The marines were there primarily to help secure local villages

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recently liberated from the Taliban.

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So whilst bomb disposal teams try to rid these villages of IEDs...

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..the enemy had to be kept at bay.

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And this was the job of the Royal Marines.

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They went out to draw enemy fire.

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They were the bait, if you like. The lure.

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The red rag to the Taliban bull.

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That's what it's all about.

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Engaging them on our terms when they think they're OK.

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The key thing is to try and kill them if you get the chance,

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that's the priority.

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And what did it feel like, then,

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to be...well, effectively, human bait?

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I think, initially, most of the marines were up for it

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because it meant that we were going to get involved in the action.

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We would start taking the fight to them

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and therefore winning the insurgent, kind of, campaign.

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I think we underestimated what kind of resistance

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we were going to get when we arrived.

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Towards the latter end of the tour,

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there was a definite swing in opinion.

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There was an air of despondency

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and perhaps feeling like we'd been left alone a little bit

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and we were just walking around.

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And the expression, "Figure 11 targets",

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"Walking figure 11 targets",

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is what everyone thought they were,

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which is a cardboard cut-out that we use on the ranges in the UK

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when we're practising our fire and manoeuvre.

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-And that's what you felt like?

-That's what everyone felt like.

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The insurgency pretty much controlled the ground,

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and seeded it with IEDs continually.

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In a six-month period in Nad-e-Ali North,

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one IED was discovered

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or detonated every 16 hours.

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Casualty rates for 42 Commando mounted.

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Actions on contact IED.

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If you get an IED... self-treat yourself,

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if you've got any arms and legs left.

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OK, I'll call in the helo,

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it should be at Bastion within 21 minutes or whatever, OK?

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There's guys close.

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RADIO CHATTER

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An added pressure was the interception of Icom chatter,

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that's the insurgents' radio communications.

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Helpful for intelligence...

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They said, "Be ready for them. Don't let them go anywhere."

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..but it could also be very destabilising.

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Taliban said they've seen the patrol now.

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-They've seen the patrol?

-Yeah.

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OK.

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The marines could hear the insurgents plotting their attacks,

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and it seemed they always had eyes on the British soldiers.

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We've had more Icom, and they're saying be careful, all right?

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XXX Anybody is PIDed, I want them taken out. Go.

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GUNFIRE

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Yeah, lads. Fucking good shooting.

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And yet all the time the marines were braced for enemy attack,

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they were having to try and win the battle for the hearts and minds

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of the local population.

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But also the marines had to work closely

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with the Afghan security forces,

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and that brought its own big problems.

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The main mission was to integrate and hand over

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and let the Afghans lead the patrols.

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But the way they did their business was very...

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Not British.

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The leverage that the Afghan applied onto the residents

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was to place a 9mm pistol in a child's mouth.

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They would beat people, threaten to kill people,

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cock their weapons at people,

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they would fire into the floor next to people.

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I can remember one of my patrol gave a little girl a biscuit,

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you know, walk up behind the little girl

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and hit her on the back of the head with a rifle

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so hard that she fell, rolled into the canal.

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What do you do with that, you know?

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You can't challenge the behaviour, it's too complicated to address.

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All I then have to do is restrain my soldiers

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from attacking the people that we're partnering with.

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It's...it's...

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You know, I've got bigger issues to deal with.

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It sounds horrific, but I've got bigger issues to deal with.

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Some of the marines think

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that seeing such relentlessly brutal behaviour

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might have skewed their own sense of right and wrong.

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The days didn't finish with pistols being put in mouths,

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the days finished when we got back to the camp.

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And in-between that, I would see my friends blown to smithereens,

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I would see other friends with horrific, life-changing injuries,

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I would see young children come out to take photos of helicopters

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and get shot,

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I would see limbs hung in a tree,

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I would be ambushed,

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I would see farmers killed,

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I would see A&A beat a young man to death,

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I would then fire and manoeuvre, under fire, 200 metres

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and then get back to the CP.

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You know, the days were horrific.

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And there's a lifetime full of events

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in one day to kind of rationalise,

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analyse, self-criticise,

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but I haven't got time for that, because the next day I'm going out

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and repeating that exercise with the same kind of risks.

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Colonel Oliver Lee was commanding officer

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of another Royal Marine unit in Nad-e-Ali South,

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adjacent to 42 Commando in the north.

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His was a relatively benign area,

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and although he never met Blackman

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or personally visited his checkpoint,

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he had become increasingly worried about the stresses on the men

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in that pressure-cooker environment to his north.

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I was. I was worried indeed at a number of points.

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There are a series of factors that are common to something

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very serious going wrong on the battlefield.

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It's a range of factors relating to adequacy or not of training,

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of oversight, of leadership,

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of cultural awareness,

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to a sense in individuals or groups of individuals

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of isolation or abandonment,

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the loss of much-loved and talismanic colleagues,

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a sense, as a result of that, of dehumanising the enemy.

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Those are the sort of factors that sit at the heart

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of these kind of disasters on the battlefield.

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Some have reported on this,

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suggesting that soldiers had gone rogue or feral.

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They are not words that I personally would choose,

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but my observation that the manner in which operations

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were being conducted there

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was very far indeed from how I would have chosen it to be,

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and, in my view, increased rather than decreased the likelihood

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of a Sergeant Blackman-type event taking place.

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And I felt that those factors were, largely speaking,

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factors that lay outside Sergeant Blackman's control.

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Were we feral?

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You could...

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I don't really know what we were at the end.

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I think we were just shell-shocked, if anything.

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I don't think feral is the right word,

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it almost kind of implies some disregard for authority

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and there was no disregard for authority.

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We respected our HQ, to a degree,

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as much as any other soldier would on a front line.

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After that repetitive kind of exposure to violence

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and different cultures, I'd changed.

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And it's taken a long time,

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and I still think it's perhaps a process that's ongoing,

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to get back to who I was before.

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Louis Nethercott, a young machine gunner

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who worked closely with Alexander Blackman,

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does not accept that their standards dropped,

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despite the pressures.

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The routine and the soldiering and the standards were maintained

0:19:330:19:37

to the high level that they always are,

0:19:370:19:40

but personal feelings, I was just tired.

0:19:400:19:45

And I know the lads were as well.

0:19:450:19:47

And, you know, we didn't have the numbers that we did initially,

0:19:470:19:53

so it's just, you know, it was just tough at that point, I think.

0:19:530:19:57

So were these the same pressures felt by Alexander Blackman

0:19:590:20:03

that, after six months in Nad-e-Ali North,

0:20:030:20:06

culminated in the day that was to become

0:20:060:20:08

the most infamous in the Afghan campaign?

0:20:080:20:11

On 15th September, we pushed out patrols early in the morning.

0:20:120:20:17

11 Lima is now going out, so this was my call sign.

0:20:170:20:20

Literally, as soon as we walk out the door here at 7:05,

0:20:200:20:24

we've got five fighting-age males north of my location.

0:20:240:20:27

It wasn't just our call sign that was involved,

0:20:270:20:30

there was lots of other patrols on the ground.

0:20:300:20:32

Here, we can actually see some names -

0:20:320:20:34

Janati and Khales.

0:20:340:20:37

I mean, this could well be the name of the guy that was killed.

0:20:370:20:42

"We've had some alcohol."

0:20:440:20:46

It was quite common that we'd pick up communications,

0:20:460:20:49

and a couple of times, when we arrested people,

0:20:490:20:51

they were under the influence of alcohol,

0:20:510:20:53

a lot of the time under opiates and what have you.

0:20:530:20:57

But there was some other crazy drugs that they must have been taking.

0:20:570:21:01

"We have shot the camp.

0:21:010:21:03

"We have met the friends who gave us the little things."

0:21:030:21:06

The Taliban, they'd always have little code words.

0:21:060:21:10

And over time, we knew that "little things" were the grenades.

0:21:100:21:13

This is all trigger communications for us on the ground.

0:21:130:21:16

So we would have been quite ramped up

0:21:160:21:18

and quite worried about this.

0:21:180:21:19

When they start talking about more manpower

0:21:190:21:22

and using mobiles to communicate,

0:21:220:21:24

you can pretty much guarantee

0:21:240:21:26

that something bad is going to happen to someone.

0:21:260:21:30

At 0700 on 15th September, 2011,

0:21:300:21:34

Rob Driscoll set out with his multiple of about 15 men on patrol.

0:21:340:21:38

He moved from his base at Checkpoint Daqhiqh

0:21:380:21:41

to check for IEDs that might have been seeded overnight

0:21:410:21:45

but then, from these compounds here, came under fire.

0:21:450:21:48

Now, after a brief firefight,

0:21:480:21:51

he made a tactical withdrawal back to his checkpoint.

0:21:510:21:53

But not long after that, a second patrol was attacked.

0:21:530:21:57

And that was when Sergeant Blackman and his men,

0:21:570:21:59

based down here at Checkpoint Omar, were ordered to investigate.

0:21:590:22:03

About 1,000 metres to the north, they got to the compounds,

0:22:040:22:07

and there, they stormed them, but found nothing,

0:22:070:22:10

the enemy had fled.

0:22:100:22:11

He then started to return back to his checkpoint.

0:22:110:22:15

That was when he received intelligence

0:22:150:22:17

that the enemy was flanking him - in other words,

0:22:170:22:20

coming in from the other side, ready to attack.

0:22:200:22:22

That was when an Apache attack helicopter was called.

0:22:220:22:26

GUNFIRE

0:22:260:22:29

Louis Nethercott was on Blackman's patrol.

0:22:290:22:33

Two insurgents were positively identified,

0:22:330:22:36

had weapons systems on them

0:22:360:22:37

and then I remember the Apache engaging the guys.

0:22:370:22:41

I remember the sound of the rounds.

0:22:410:22:43

GUNFIRE

0:22:430:22:46

MAN CHEERS

0:22:460:22:48

From the evidence of the helmet camera footage,

0:22:480:22:51

one enemy fighter was seen to fall.

0:22:510:22:54

Though, to everyone's consternation, another man was seen to escape.

0:22:540:22:58

And then we were tasked to go over to one of the males who had been

0:23:110:23:16

hit by the helicopter and, I guess, see what state he was in,

0:23:160:23:23

get the weapons systems, any intelligence, you know,

0:23:230:23:26

do the normal protocol.

0:23:260:23:27

I don't think he's dead.

0:23:290:23:31

Blackman's patrol had been tasked to carry out a BDA,

0:23:310:23:35

or a battle damage assessment.

0:23:350:23:37

In other words, check to see if this insurgent had been killed,

0:23:370:23:40

and then to take photographs and various measurements

0:23:400:23:43

for identification purposes.

0:23:430:23:44

Al, let's push up there.

0:23:440:23:46

I walked past this guy,

0:23:470:23:49

he was in the middle of a cornfield, a very exposed area.

0:23:490:23:52

All I was concerned about at that point was doing my personal job,

0:23:520:23:57

which was to watch the western flank.

0:23:570:24:02

So as I pushed west,

0:24:020:24:03

I walked past this guy that had been hit by the Apache.

0:24:030:24:07

Wasn't really interested in looking at him,

0:24:090:24:12

saw his dishdasha.

0:24:120:24:13

I believe he was wearing a sort of white dishdasha.

0:24:130:24:16

And this guy had been hit by an Apache, so, you know,

0:24:160:24:20

it's going to do some serious damage.

0:24:200:24:23

I thought the chances are this bloke is probably dead.

0:24:230:24:27

That's some guy in a bloody body on a floor.

0:24:270:24:31

I didn't know the guy.

0:24:310:24:33

I've no emotional attachment to him.

0:24:330:24:36

On that tour, I'd seen good mates of mine

0:24:360:24:39

in far worse states than that.

0:24:390:24:41

So, you know, why should it make me feel any way?

0:24:410:24:46

So I walked past this guy,

0:24:460:24:47

and then the guys did their jobs behind me.

0:24:470:24:50

Here's a simple map of the scene.

0:24:520:24:54

The insurgent who'd been hit lay in a cornfield, here.

0:24:540:24:58

To the east was a supply route

0:24:590:25:01

that Rob Driscoll had been trying to clear of IEDs,

0:25:010:25:05

and to the west were the compounds

0:25:050:25:07

that, earlier, Blackman and his patrol had stormed.

0:25:070:25:10

To the south, a tree line and an irrigation ditch.

0:25:100:25:13

And this is where Blackman's patrol concealed themselves,

0:25:130:25:16

helped by the fact there was a three- or four-metre stretch

0:25:160:25:19

of much more mature corn

0:25:190:25:20

which was that much higher and provided good cover.

0:25:200:25:23

Now, Blackman would have been totally within his rights

0:25:250:25:28

to shoot the insurgent from a distance

0:25:280:25:30

because he could have been ready to detonate a grenade

0:25:300:25:32

as soon as anyone got close to him.

0:25:320:25:34

When I went to see Blackman in prison,

0:25:340:25:36

he told me that that the insurgent

0:25:360:25:37

might have been a source of information,

0:25:370:25:40

and the marines were eager at that time to establish

0:25:400:25:42

the location of a bomb-making factory in the vicinity.

0:25:420:25:45

So Sergeant Blackman and one other marine

0:25:450:25:47

moved forward to investigate the prone body.

0:25:470:25:50

One of three other marines

0:25:520:25:54

who was standing back in the long corn to provide cover

0:25:540:25:57

was Sam Deen.

0:25:570:25:59

He has since left the marines and returned to civilian life.

0:25:590:26:03

I tracked him down and he agreed to talk to me.

0:26:030:26:07

His memories of that day in Afghanistan were undimmed.

0:26:070:26:11

Basically, we went over and Al and one of the other guys,

0:26:130:26:18

they did their assessment on him.

0:26:180:26:21

They found a grenade, an AK,

0:26:210:26:24

quite a lot of rounds.

0:26:240:26:25

-So they moved forward first, you stood back?

-Yeah.

0:26:250:26:28

Then as they did the assessment, they rolled him over,

0:26:280:26:32

took the grenade off him and disarmed him.

0:26:320:26:35

They then called over for another guy and I went over.

0:26:400:26:44

Because we were in the middle of a field, quite vulnerable,

0:26:440:26:48

we took him back to the side-line,

0:26:480:26:50

basically, on the edge of an irrigation ditch.

0:26:500:26:53

Sam Deen and two others were called forward.

0:26:570:27:01

So now five marines dragged the injured man

0:27:010:27:03

back here to the long corn.

0:27:030:27:06

But was this just about seeking cover from the enemy

0:27:060:27:09

or was it to conceal what they were doing or might do?

0:27:090:27:13

Were they concerned about the circling Apache helicopter

0:27:160:27:19

with its powerful surveillance camera?

0:27:190:27:22

It was now that Blackman,

0:27:220:27:24

as part of his BDA, battle damage assessment,

0:27:240:27:27

got on the radio to tell all the other call signs what was going on.

0:27:270:27:31

Rob Driscoll, at his checkpoint about 500 metres away,

0:27:410:27:44

was listening in on the radio

0:27:440:27:46

as Blackman proceeded with his battle damage assessment.

0:27:460:27:49

Well, I'd hoped it went like every other BDA,

0:27:500:27:53

where we go out and everyone's dead,

0:27:530:27:56

and it's a case of swabbing their skulls or whatever is left of them.

0:27:560:27:59

So we were very hopeful that's what was going to happen.

0:27:590:28:03

And it wasn't to be,

0:28:030:28:04

cos as the communications unfolded, you know,

0:28:040:28:08

it obviously indicated that this guy perhaps wasn't dead.

0:28:080:28:12

And that there was a strong chance that,

0:28:120:28:15

against all rationality and tactical sense,

0:28:150:28:19

we were going to try and...

0:28:190:28:20

..you know, get him out and get him to hospital and fix him up.

0:28:220:28:26

That wouldn't have been a popular move?

0:28:280:28:30

It wouldn't have been a popular move at all.

0:28:300:28:31

I mean, the guy has just been shooting at us.

0:28:310:28:33

He could have been the guy that shot at us an hour earlier.

0:28:330:28:37

Blackman was in a difficult situation,

0:28:370:28:40

militarily and morally.

0:28:400:28:42

According to the rules of war, an injured, captured enemy

0:28:420:28:45

is referred to as hors de combat, meaning outside the fight,

0:28:450:28:49

and so should be accorded the same treatment and respect

0:28:490:28:52

due to one of your own.

0:28:520:28:54

But there were other considerations and pressures

0:28:540:28:57

piling in on Blackman -

0:28:570:28:58

in fact, piling in on everyone.

0:28:580:29:01

Obviously, emotions are running high.

0:29:040:29:06

It's quite difficult to stop being

0:29:070:29:11

on the verge of being very aggressive,

0:29:110:29:13

to then treating a wounded male

0:29:130:29:16

who's been trying to kill you and your oppos.

0:29:160:29:18

So that's quite difficult to distinguish the two.

0:29:180:29:21

There was a clear reluctance to apply first aid to the insurgent...

0:29:210:29:26

..although battle dressings were eventually applied.

0:29:310:29:34

And there was some discussion amongst the patrol

0:29:400:29:43

and exchanges over the radio with HQ about activating a MERT,

0:29:430:29:47

that is, a "medical emergency reaction team",

0:29:470:29:49

to take the insurgent for medical treatment to Camp Bastion.

0:29:490:29:53

It's just not feasible, you know -

0:29:570:29:59

that would have meant a Mastiff group,

0:29:590:30:02

which is four or five vehicles crewed with five guys

0:30:020:30:08

coming up a route we know is IEDed

0:30:080:30:11

that we can't get out to clear,

0:30:110:30:13

cos every time we do, we get shot at.

0:30:130:30:15

The thought of them bringing in a million-pound aircraft

0:30:150:30:18

with a highly trained British crew

0:30:180:30:20

who have mums, dads, brothers and sisters,

0:30:200:30:23

that's what the enemy wanted us to do.

0:30:230:30:25

They wanted us to land our aircraft

0:30:250:30:28

so they could try and shoot them or...

0:30:280:30:31

They wanted us to drive up the road so they could blow us up.

0:30:310:30:37

That's what they wanted. It's not like this guy was innocent at all.

0:30:370:30:41

He was proven guilty and, actually,

0:30:410:30:43

a decision had been made at some level to kill him.

0:30:430:30:45

So what you're saying is, as best as you can recollect,

0:30:450:30:49

is that what Blackman did is what everybody wanted him to do?

0:30:490:30:52

Yeah, on my recollection,

0:30:520:30:54

which I played back many, many times and tried to analyse,

0:30:540:30:58

was that there was certainly implied taskings on the radio.

0:30:580:31:03

It's...

0:31:040:31:06

When you say "implied taskings", what do you mean by that?

0:31:060:31:08

I mean that I think everyone that was speaking on that radio,

0:31:080:31:11

everyone...was sending out a signal to Al -

0:31:110:31:16

we don't need this to happen, you know?

0:31:160:31:19

Make it so that it doesn't happen.

0:31:190:31:21

-You mean in terms of evacuating the insurgent?

-Yes.

0:31:210:31:24

He could have done several different things.

0:31:240:31:27

You know, and what he did...

0:31:270:31:29

The endgame is what I think everyone wanted.

0:31:310:31:35

You know, that guy needed to pass away somehow.

0:31:350:31:40

I think how he did it perhaps was...

0:31:400:31:44

Well, in the eyes of the law,

0:31:440:31:46

it is the wrong thing to do, isn't it?

0:31:460:31:48

But everyone that day who was privy to the information,

0:31:480:31:52

who was stood by the gate ready to go,

0:31:520:31:55

they didn't want to go out and rescue some bloke

0:31:550:31:57

that's been shooting at them for the last four months.

0:31:570:32:00

Everybody wanted that guy to be dead.

0:32:000:32:03

Implied tasking, in military terms,

0:32:050:32:07

is really saying something without spelling it out.

0:32:070:32:10

So was Blackman responding consciously or subconsciously

0:32:100:32:14

to the power of the collective mind?

0:32:140:32:18

And there could have been another pressure on Blackman closer to home.

0:32:180:32:22

It's clear from the helmet camera footage

0:32:250:32:27

that some of the younger marines were getting agitated.

0:32:270:32:30

We were all pretty angry, and at the time when it happened,

0:32:360:32:40

it was just...

0:32:400:32:41

We just wanted to just get the assessment done and just leave,

0:32:410:32:45

we didn't really want to hang around.

0:32:450:32:47

At least two of the marines I can see from the video

0:32:470:32:50

had unsheathed their own pistols

0:32:500:32:51

and were threatening to shoot the insurgent themselves.

0:32:510:32:54

One of the voices belongs to Jack Hammond,

0:33:030:33:05

referred to in the trial as Marine C.

0:33:050:33:08

And extracts from his diary from the day were read out in court.

0:33:080:33:11

This is one of them.

0:33:110:33:13

"So there I was, pistol drawn,

0:33:130:33:15

"waiting for the Sergeant and to get off the net" - that means radio -

0:33:150:33:19

"so I could pop this little wanker and be done with it."

0:33:190:33:22

Now, Hammond claimed that this was all just bravado,

0:33:240:33:27

but it may have impacted on Blackman all the same,

0:33:270:33:30

because Sam Deen also admits to mouthing off

0:33:300:33:33

about shooting the insurgent,

0:33:330:33:35

"just to be one of the lads," he says.

0:33:350:33:37

Would you say you feel responsible now?

0:33:370:33:39

You feel some guilt yourself?

0:33:390:33:41

Yeah, a little bit, yeah.

0:33:410:33:43

I feel like when we were there, I do remember saying,

0:33:430:33:48

"Yeah, I'll put one in his head as well."

0:33:480:33:49

And a few of the other lads said that.

0:33:490:33:51

I do think he took the responsibility

0:33:510:33:53

from the younger lads and the less senior blokes,

0:33:530:33:56

and he took it on his shoulders,

0:33:560:33:57

and I think he thought it was his responsibility to do it

0:33:570:34:00

and then move on, because there was

0:34:000:34:03

no point in calling in a MERT,

0:34:030:34:05

so guys could get shot out of the sky.

0:34:050:34:08

He did draw a line in the sand, and I don't think...

0:34:090:34:12

He didn't kill him in cold blood,

0:34:120:34:15

he just did it so we could just get on with it and move on.

0:34:150:34:19

That's my personal opinion.

0:34:190:34:21

Yet another consideration, then -

0:34:210:34:23

did Blackman do what he did

0:34:230:34:25

partly to protect his own young marines from themselves?

0:34:250:34:29

I can't imagine what he was feeling.

0:34:290:34:31

He's got young guys that, on camera, were going to shoot him anyway.

0:34:310:34:35

So in a weird way, he kind of took one for the team.

0:34:360:34:40

Whatever was going on in Blackman's mind,

0:34:420:34:44

we do know as soon as the Apache helicopter,

0:34:440:34:47

call sign Ugly, disappeared,

0:34:470:34:49

he shot and killed the insurgent.

0:34:490:34:52

GUNSHOT

0:34:560:34:58

In a nutshell, in your view, Blackman did what he had to do?

0:35:130:35:18

Yeah, and this is why this gives me sleepless nights,

0:35:180:35:22

because I'm glad Al did what he did,

0:35:220:35:25

because all my guys went home.

0:35:250:35:28

And maybe, just maybe,

0:35:290:35:31

if he hadn't done that, you know,

0:35:310:35:33

I'd have been going to a few more funerals

0:35:330:35:35

or laying some more flowers on people's graves

0:35:350:35:39

for someone that I have absolutely zilch respect for.

0:35:390:35:45

Because he was trying to kill my friends and me.

0:35:460:35:49

Colonel Lee, there's a view that what goes on on the battlefield

0:35:520:35:56

should stay on the battlefield?

0:35:560:35:59

I don't have any sympathy with that at all,

0:35:590:36:02

which is why I have never been

0:36:020:36:04

a direct apologist for Sergeant Blackman,

0:36:040:36:07

terribly sad though I find his circumstances.

0:36:070:36:10

I think what goes on on the battlefield,

0:36:100:36:13

quite rightly, particularly now in a 21st-century context,

0:36:130:36:20

it merits immensely careful scrutiny.

0:36:200:36:23

And that seems to me to be right and proper,

0:36:230:36:26

and it also seems to me to be an absolutely key differentiator

0:36:260:36:30

between us and those, very sadly, in recent times we have fought.

0:36:300:36:35

Live, 30 mil only,

0:36:350:36:36

on the north-south wood line.

0:36:360:36:38

Engaging now.

0:36:380:36:39

And my equally concerning or sad hunch

0:36:390:36:44

is that the battlefields of the future

0:36:440:36:46

will be still more opaque and still more challenging

0:36:460:36:50

than those highly opaque and challenging ones of today.

0:36:500:36:53

And so I think that the importance of learning these sort of lessons

0:36:530:36:58

simply couldn't be any higher.

0:36:580:37:00

Sergeant Alexander Blackman,

0:37:060:37:09

as of today no longer a convicted murderer,

0:37:090:37:12

will be resentenced for manslaughter

0:37:120:37:14

on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

0:37:140:37:17

But this long drawn-out case begs many questions,

0:37:170:37:21

not least of which is,

0:37:210:37:22

to what extent should the law allow for

0:37:220:37:25

the incredibly demanding and unique circumstances of front-line combat?

0:37:250:37:30

In modern warfare,

0:37:310:37:33

especially counterinsurgency warfare,

0:37:330:37:35

many talk about the need for courageous restraint,

0:37:350:37:39

that is, having the courage to use the minimum lethal force.

0:37:390:37:43

Our soldiers in Afghanistan had to combine ferocious intent

0:37:440:37:48

with this idea of courageous restraint constantly -

0:37:480:37:51

a difficult balance to achieve,

0:37:510:37:54

as Sergeant Blackman found out, to his cost.

0:37:540:37:57

The truth is, war and the actions of our soldiers have never been

0:37:570:38:01

so closely watched, recorded and scrutinised.

0:38:010:38:05

That means the reality for the modern soldier,

0:38:050:38:08

perhaps as always, is that sometimes there can be a very thin line

0:38:080:38:12

between a court-martial and a Military Cross.

0:38:120:38:16

I'm asking you straight, now.

0:38:190:38:21

Would you think that what happened that day

0:38:210:38:23

was the only time that happened in the Afghan war?

0:38:230:38:26

No.

0:38:260:38:28

-Either before or after?

-Yeah.

0:38:310:38:32

That's the nature of the beast?

0:38:320:38:34

Yeah. And the same in every other conflict

0:38:340:38:36

where there was heavy kinetic activity.

0:38:360:38:39

I think it was just another day in Afghanistan and...

0:38:400:38:45

..that's the way it goes out there.

0:38:460:38:49

None of us got hurt,

0:38:500:38:52

so it was a successful day, as far as I'm concerned.

0:38:520:38:55

Three years ago Alexander Blackman, better known as Marine A, became the first serving British soldier to be convicted of murder since the Second World War for the killing of a badly injured Taliban insurgent on the battlefield. He has now had his murder conviction reduced to manslaughter. Panorama re-examines the case to find out what really happened on that fateful day, six years ago.

Film-maker and anthropologist Chris Terrill has been following the case since the beginning, including meeting Blackman a number of times in prison. Chris has spent many years working with the Royal Marines and was embedded with Blackman's unit at the time the incident occurred in Afghanistan. He has tracked down some of the men who were with Blackman that day and they speak for the first time about the six-month tour that proceeded the killing and reveal disturbing new insights about the day itself. Questions are raised about whether there were other pressures on Blackman to act.

Using material Chris shot in Afghanistan when embedded with Blackman's unit, the film provides a stark sense of what it was like to be stationed in a 'kill or be killed' outpost set in what was then described as 'the most dangerous square mile in the world'. The new evidence is presented for the first time and raises concerns about the way our soldiers fight wars and apply ethics on the battlefield. The outcome of the Marine A case could well shape the way we fight our wars in the future.