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The murder of an Afghan insurgent by a Royal Marine was a “heinous” crime and the Armed Forces should not request leniency when he is sentenced the chief of the defence staff has said.

Gen Sir Nick Houghton said it would be “quite wrong” for the Armed Forces to expect special provision from the law.

The sergeant, identified only as Marine A, was convicted over the shooting of the unknown man in 2011 on Friday.

A retired commander has said he should be shown leniency when he is sentenced.

Marine A faces a mandatory life sentence but a minimum term will be set on 6 December.

On Saturday Maj Gen Julian Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, said the shooting of the Afghan insurgent in Helmand Province was “totally wrong, totally unforgiveable” and it was “quite right” that Marine A would be sentenced.

But he said it was not known what pressure the sergeant might have been under in the past and some sort of clemency should be exercised.

A five-year or 10-year term would be more appropriate than life, he said.


Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Gen Houghton said there was a due process that would lead to sentencing and that process was to determine whether or not clemency could be shown.

“Those in authority over the Armed Forces should not request any form of leniency… that would be a dangerous thing to do,” he said.

“Murder is murder – this is a heinous crime.”

It was the first time a member of the British forces had faced a murder charge in relation to the conflict in Afghanistan, which began in 2001.

Two other marines were cleared after the trial at the Military Court Centre in Bulford, Wiltshire. An anonymity order was granted last year to protect the three men from possible reprisals.

‘Amounted to execution’

The murder took place after a patrol base in Helmand Province came under attack from small arms fire from two insurgents.

The Afghan prisoner had been seriously injured by gunfire from an Apache helicopter sent to provide air support, and the marines found him in a field.

Continue reading the main storyThe Geneva Convention

This international agreement concerning the treatment of captured and wounded prisoners of war was first signed in Geneva in 1864. It was later revised in 1949 and consists of four treaties.

Article three of the third convention rules that members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms or who cannot fight due to sickness, wounds or detention should be “treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria”.

To this end, it is prohibited to pass sentences on prisoners or carry out executions without a constituted court judgement. Prisoners may not be harmed, degraded, humiliated or taken hostage.

Under the convention, the wounded and sick should be collected and cared for by an impartial humanitarian body, such as the Red Cross.

One of the cleared marines – known as Marine B – inadvertently filmed the murder on his helmet-mounted camera and that footage, taken on 15 September 2011, was shown to the court during the two-week trial.

It showed Marine A shooting the Afghan prisoner with a 9mm pistol, and saying: “There, shuffle off this mortal coil… It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”

He adds: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention,” to which Marine B replies: “Yeah, roger mate.”

During the court martial, prosecutor David Perry told the court the murder was “not a killing in the heat and exercise of any armed conflict. It amounted to an execution”.

Marine A told the court martial he had fired because of “poor judgement and lack of self-control”, but said he had thought the insurgent was already dead.

Marines B and C were accused by the prosecution of being “party to the killing” and of having “encouraged and assisted” Marine A to commit the murder.

At the time of the killing, Marine A was an experienced sergeant, Marine B was new to the Helmand base, while Marine C was the most junior of the three.

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