Soldier Alexander Blackman - better known as Marine A - was today sensationally cleared of murdering a Taliban fighter and had his conviction reduced to manslaughter.
His wife Claire beamed and there were loud gasps and then cheers from his family, ex-Marines and other supporters as five top Court of Appeal judges quashed the stain on his character.
Sergeant Blackman, who has already served three years in prison, will face a new sentencing hearing in the next week but his legal team will now argue for him to be released.
On the steps of the court Mrs Blackman said she was 'delighted' with the decision and thanked the tens of thousands of people who have supported her husband and his legal battle.
She added: 'This is a crucial decision and one which better reflects the circumstances my husband found himself in during that terrible tour in Afghanistan. We now hope to get a significant reduction in his sentence'.
Campaigner Frederick Forsyth says they must get now Al Blackman released as soon as possible and then pursue the 'villains' who put him in jail.
Family: Claire Blackman, wife of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, has fought for her husband to be released from prison and was cheered wildly as his murder conviction was quashed
Support: Claire Blackman, wife of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, (centre) on the steps of The Royal Courts of Justice with her legal team and friends including Frederick Forsyth (centre right)
Mrs Blackman emerged on to the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice to applause from a crowd of veterans - including three cheers for her - and the honking of taxi horns.
Marine A's 'heroine' wife's message for her husband and his supporters
An emotional Claire Blackman on justice for her husband
Claire Blackman was cheered wildly outside court today as she reacted to her husband's victory.
Taxi drivers passing the Royal Courts of Justice also stopped and blared their horns during wild celebrations.
'We are delighted at the judges' decision to substitute manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
'This is a crucial decision and one that much better reflects the circumstances that my husband found himself in during that terrible tour of Afghanistan.
'We must now wait for the sentencing hearing and hope to secure a significant reduction in Al's sentence.
'We would like to thank our fantastic legal team of Jonathan Goldberg QC, Jeffrey Israel and Senghin Kong for their excellent work to date.
'We would also like to thank the tens of thousands of supporters, especially from the Royal Marines' family, who have stood behind us throughout and who have played such an important role in getting us to this point.'
She said: 'We must now hope to secure a significant reduction in the sentence.'
She thanked her husband's 'fantastic' legal team and the 'tens of thousands of supporters, especially from the Royal Marine family, who have stood behind us throughout and played such an important role in getting us to this point'.
One of Marine A's biggest supporters, author and journalist Frederick Forsyth said the 'fight is not over yet'.
He said: 'We must free a man who has been put in jail who should never have been there'.
He added: Then we must go after those people who wrongly and villainously put him there.
'There are things that have to be said about what was done to Sgt Blackman and how these people put him there and how they have got away with it, so far'.
'The people behind this should retire immediately', when asked who he meant he said the figures in the military and judiciary who dealt with the original court martial and his trial.
Blackman's counsel, Jonathan Goldberg QC, introduced Mrs Blackman and author Frederick Forsyth to the crowd as 'the hero and the heroine of this occasion'.
'The hero is my old friend Frederick Forsyth, who did not know Blackman and did not know Claire but who knew a miscarriage of justice when he smelt one.
'He brought me in last summer and, when I read these papers, I was staggered at what I read.
'The heroine, of course, is Claire Blackman.
'Without her indefatigable efforts to keep the flame alive on behalf of her husband and to get that debate in Parliament, which sparked the interest of the public and the Daily Mail, and which led directly to today's victory, none of this would have happened.'
Those who prosecuted Marine A face serious questions today.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: 'We have fully co-operated with each stage of Sergeant Blackman's case, which has now involved a criminal investigation, a court martial and the appeal process, and will continue to provide personal support to the family, as we have done since charges were first brought.
'We respect the court's decision and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on it.'
Winners: Blackman's counsel, Jonathan Goldberg QC, introduced Mrs Blackman as the 'heroine' of the story while Frederick Forsyth says they must pursue the 'villains' who put him in jail
Backing: Sgt Blackman's case has been backed by people from all over the world who agreed he was wrongly convicted
Thrilled: Mrs Blackman emerged on to the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice to applause from a crowd of veterans - including three cheers for her - and the honking of taxi horns
The momentous declaration at the Royal Courts of Justice in London followed fresh evidence he was suffering from combat stress when he shot a wounded Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.
The 'adjustment disorder' – a recognised mental illness – muddled his mind at the point he pulled the trigger, said three top psychiatrists who diagnosed him.
The judges formally quashed the veteran commando's murder conviction, and commuted it to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Sergeant Blackman, 42, known as Marine A when he was sentenced to life for murder in 2013, will now be re-sentenced.
A further hearing, likely in about a week, will be set to determine the new sentence, and he will remain behind bars for the time being.
He has already served more than three years in prison. Under his murder conviction, he was serving a minimum of eight years.
Manslaughter usually carries a lower prison term. If the judges re-sentence him to six years or less, it would mean he could be freed immediately on the basis of having already served half his time.
At a hearing in February the judges were urged to overturn Blackman's 'unsafe' murder conviction on the basis of 'uncontradicted' evidence from three psychiatrists that he was suffering from a mental illness - an adjustment disorder - at the time of the killing.
They heard that at the time of the 2011 incident, he was serving with Plymouth-based 42 Commando in Helmand province in 'ghastly' conditions which were a 'breeding ground' for mental health problems.
In Wednesday's ruling, the judges said Blackman had been 'an exemplary soldier before his deployment to Afghanistan in March 2011'.
They ruled: 'The appellant suffered from quite exceptional stressors ... during the time of that deployment which increasingly impacted on him the longer he was in command at CP Omar.'
The judges said it was 'clear that a consequence was that he had developed a hatred for the Taliban and a desire for revenge'.
At the time of the killing 'the patrol remained under threat from other insurgents'.
The judges said: 'Given his prior exemplary conduct, we have concluded that it was the combination of the stressors, the other matters to which we have referred and his adjustment disorder that substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgment.'
The devastating Apache helicopter attack in the moments before Marine A shot a wounded Taliban insurgent dead is released by MoD
Video extracts from the Marine A incident were released for the first time last month.
They show a patrol of Marines watching a British Apache helicopter gunship hovering in the sky as it unleashes a barrage of fire at a Taliban fighter.
The clattering from the gunship’s fearsome 30mm cannon can be heard clearly.
It is the opening scene of what became the most controversial episode in the Afghanistan war – culminating in the jailing of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, known as Marine A.
The Ministry of Defence released the video in February following a court application by the BBC, The Guardian and other media organisations.
The Ministry of Defence released footage of the moments leading up to the incident where Marine A killed the Taliban fighter
The footage, pictured, was filmed on a helmet-mounted video camera worn by one of the junior Marines in the patrol, Corporal Christopher Watson
The newly-released video clips do not show the shooting incident itself, but shots can be heard in the background as the Marine patrol searches for the insurgents
The dramatic footage comes from a helmet-mounted video camera worn by one of the junior Marines in Sgt Blackman’s patrol.
The video was used to convict Sgt Blackman at his court martial in 2013 but has never been seen by the public, as it was ruled too inflammatory and a potential ‘propaganda gift to terrorists’.
In a ruling the High Court did not agree to release the full video - but permitted its partial release, allowing the opening scenes of the episode to be viewed by the public for the first time.
The video clips do not show the shooting incident itself, only some of the events leading up to it.
The footage begins in a grassy field shortly after two insurgents had been spotted creeping up on a remote British outpost in Helmand Province.
An Apache was summoned from Camp Bastion to counter their stealth attack, and Sgt Blackman’s patrol was sent out too.
The aircrew spotted one of the gunmen in a cornfield.
As the Marines watch, several bursts of loud gunfire can be heard as the Apache unleashes 139 rounds from its 30mm cannon.
The Marines, positioned some distance away, can be heard shouting ‘Come on!’ and ‘I think he’s dead’.
As might be expected of young troops in a dangerous battlefield, their language is course as they are heard discussing the Apache crew’s aim.
A voice says: ‘They’ve missed him. They’ve f***ing missed the cheeser.’
The Marines accuse the Apache crew of ‘error after error after error’ and suggest they should have fired a Hellfire rocket instead.
The next clip from the blisteringly hot afternoon in September 2011 shows Sgt Blackman and Jack Hammond, known as Marine C, walking over to examine the wounded man.
They found an AK47, spare ammunition and a hand grenade lying by his blood-soaked body in the 50C heat. The insurgent cannot be seen.
The rest of the episode including the shooting will not be shown publicly, but the story of what happened next is well known.
Sgt Blackman shot the insurgent, famously quoting from Hamlet as he said: ‘Shuffle off this mortal coil.’
Other footage shows the patrol moving through a field and holding their positions as they search for the Taliban fighters
Sgt Blackman led his patrol into the cornfield where they found an AK47, spare ammunition and a hand grenade by the insurgent's 'blood-soaked' body
The clips were released following a High Court application from media organisations including the BBC
After Sgt Blackman’s court martial, three judges ruled that the video of the shooting incident should not be made public.
At the time, government terrorism experts had advised the judges that Sgt Blackman and his family could be at risk from Islamic extremists.
Paul Mott, the deputy head of the government’s Research Information and Communications Unit, said at the time that the video was 'a gift in propaganda terms’.
The court martial’s Judge Advocate General, Jeff Blackett, ruled that the release of the video would ‘generate significant feelings of anger and revenge among certain people and will incite attacks on British service personnel at home and abroad’.
The application for the video to be partially released was made on behalf of the BBC, Sky News, ITN, and The Guardian and Times Newspapers.
They want to use it to illustrate reports of Sgt Blackman’s appeal, which was successful today.
Timeline: The path to justice for British soldier Marine A
Support: Ever since Alexander Blackman was convicted tens of thousands of servicemen and women as well as the public have fought to see his murder convicted overturned
Sergeant Alexander Blackman - known as Marine A - became the first British serviceman convicted of murder on a foreign battlefield since the Second World War.
Here is a timeline of events in the case:
March - Sgt Blackman deploys to Helmand province with 42 Commando as part of Op Herrick XIV. His unit is sent to Nad-e Ali, where it sees heavy fighting. Several marines are killed, including Sgt Blackman's troop commander, and others are maimed.
September 15 - Taliban insurgents attack a small British patrol base. The attack is repelled with the aid of a British Apache helicopter gunship. Sgt Blackman and his marines are on patrol and sent to look for the fleeing attackers. They find one, lying gravely wounded, in the middle of a field. Sgt Blackman shoots him in the chest with his pistol. The killing is captured on helmet camera by one of the patrol.
September - The video of the incident is found on a Royal Marine's laptop during an investigation by civilian police into another alleged crime. A police investigation begins.
October 11 - Seven unnamed Royal Marines are arrested on suspicion of murder.
October 23 - Sgt Blackman and two others go on trial at the Court Martial Centre in Bulford, Wiltshire, accused of murder. He is only identified as Marine A and his comrades as Marines B and C. They give evidence from behind screens. All three plead not guilty.
November 8 - Sgt Blackman is found guilty of murder. The two other marines are acquitted.
December 5 - A court rules Sgt Blackman, still only known to the world as Marine A, should be stripped of his anonymity.
December 6 - Sgt Blackman, from Taunton, Somerset, is given a life sentence and told he must serve a minimum of 10 years in a civilian prison.
May 22 - Sgt Blackman loses a Court of Appeal bid to overturn his life sentence. His minimum term is cut from 10 years to eight.
September - A high-profile campaign begins to have Sgt Blackman freed, led by his wife Claire.
December 16 - 1,100 pages of new evidence are handed into the Criminal Cases Review Commission in an attempt to have the conviction sent back to the Court of Appeal.
December - The CCRC concludes there is a "real possibility" of overturning the conviction, and grants an appeal. Later the same month, the Lord Chief Justice refuses a bid to grant bail, after prosecutors challenge new psychiatric evidence about his mental state at the time of the killing.
December 21 - Sgt Blackman loses a bid to be released on bail in time for Christmas ahead of his appeal hearing.
February 7 - Five judges, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson, Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Openshaw and Mr Justice Sweeney, begin hearing an appeal brought by Sgt Blackman to overturn his murder conviction at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London.
March 13 - The Court Martial Appeal Court announces the appeal ruling will be given on March 15.
March 15 - Sgt Blackman has his murder conviction replaced with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility by the Court. A new sentence will be set at a later date.
Squalid conditions. Blistering heat. Flimsy defences. And constant terror. Revealed: The pictures that portray the truth about Sgt Blackman's CAMP HELL
High summer in Nad-e-Ali district and a small corner of 'the most dangerous square mile on Earth' is broiling in the heat.
Little moves, save for when a breath of wind sends dust devils spinning across the flat, parched landscape beyond the fortifications. Shade is welcome but the benefit is relative. In any case, there is nowhere here that one can truly relax.
This is Checkpoint Omar, home in 2011 to 16 soldiers from J Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines. 'Home', but not at all homely.
The thermometer is touching 120f, but that is only one of the many 'hellish' — and in some cases avoidable — factors which will drive the senior soldier at CP Omar to the brink of mental illness and beyond. Only those who were there can properly understand the impact of the depredations of such an environment.
Unlike many British patrol bases, which were founded inside or around the thick mud walls and roofed buildings of a typical Afghan farm compound, Omar was built from scratch as a rudimentary bastion by the Royal Engineers
Checkpoint Omar was home to 16 soldiers from J Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines in 2011, including Sgt Blackman
It was the task of the Court of Appeal to try to do so last week. Over two days Lord Chief Justice Thomas and his four colleagues heard of the 'austere and hostile' conditions endured by Sgt Alexander Blackman and his men at Omar.
These pictures, never seen before, were mostly taken on Sgt Blackman's camera during his tour of duty. They offer a startling insight into the privations he and his men suffered day after day.
Not long into their six-month tour, the commandos were already feeling 'marginalised, unsupported, under-resourced and peripheral', the court heard.
The extreme stresses would culminate in Sgt Blackman developing an 'adjustment disorder' and shooting dead a Taliban insurgent who had already been mortally wounded by helicopter cannon fire while attacking another British base.
The appeal court will now decide whether or not Sgt Blackman's subsequent and highly controversial conviction for murder in December 2013 was unsafe. Blackman's new legal team, headed by Jonathan Goldberg QC and funded by readers of this newspaper, have made a very powerful case.
What was it that could have driven a 'superb' soldier like Sgt Blackman to commit such an act?
Nearing 120f: There's no roof or running water or toilets. It's too hot in the shipping containers but the makeshift tents, left, are vulnerable to grenades being tossed in
The base was next to 'Route Cornwall' (shown), the road that ran towards 42 Commando's HQ at Forward Operating Base Shahzad, a few kilometres south-west of Omar
To answer that question, you need to try to understand conditions at Checkpoint Omar, which was an ill-conceived base from the very start.
Though not as remote as some other bases — it was next to 'Route Cornwall', the road that ran towards 42 Commando's HQ at Forward Operating Base Shahzad, a few kilometres south-west of Omar — it was desperately lacking in several respects.
Unlike many British patrol bases, which were founded inside or around the thick mud walls and roofed buildings of a typical Afghan farm compound, Omar was built from scratch as a rudimentary bastion by the Royal Engineers.
The four walls were constructed of HESCO barriers — wire mesh, fabric lined boxes which were filled with earth. They normally provide good protection against direct fire from outside, but at Omar the walls were simply not high enough.
Blackman recalled that when he and his marines first arrived they could see that any Afghan who drove past on a tractor could look down into their base. This was absurd and a clear security risk. Only after prolonged lobbying at HQ was this remedied and the walls raised (the photos you see here are Omar after the improvement).
On patrol: Every step taken by a soldier (left) could see them ending up maimed and disfigured by an IED (pictured right)
Life inside Omar was difficult. But they were as nothing compared with the problems that the marines faced when they stepped out of the main gate on patrol
Omar's back gate was another source of concern to the marines. The original gate was simply an flimsy barrier of wire and padding. Following complaints, a purpose–built gate was installed — and fell down the next night. There was no lock to secure it after dark. The marines feared that insurgents could have slipped into the camp and 'slit our throats as we slept'. A padlock was eventually supplied.
The only sturdy, roofed cover inside the checkpoint was provided by shipping containers. Being metal, they were unbearably hot to sleep in and were used mainly for storage. One was turned into the base control room, which was where the unit's radio set was kept.
The soldiers slept in tents which were pitched along one of the HESCO walls. This made them acutely vulnerable to grenades lobbed from outside.
These pictures, never seen before, were mostly taken on the camera of Sgt Blackman (pictured) during his tour of duty. They offer a startling insight into the privations he and his men suffered day after day
Omar had no running water or electricity. The latter was supplied by a generator, and the fuel for this and the marines' bottled drinking water — they each drank gallons every day — had to be trucked up along the hazardous road from Shahzad.
As there was no working fridge in the camp the drinking water, stacked in the open, was at best tepid and often hot. Each marine was supposed to drink 10 to 15 litres a day.
The soldiers lived off MRE — 'meals ready to eat' — ration packs. They had to defecate into bags which were collected and burnt by one of the marines at the end of each day. Flies plagued the camp.
Little wonder that cases of diarrhoea and vomiting were common.
Such were the difficulties of life inside Omar. But they were as nothing compared with the problems that the marines faced when they stepped out of the main gate on patrol.
Omar was 'in the heart of hostile territory', the court of appeal heard. 'The local populace whose 'hearts and minds' they were supposed to win over, were often duplicitous. A friend by day became an enemy by night.' But these were marines, among the finest fighting soldiers in the world. The problem was there was simply not enough of them; Omar was hopelessly undermanned.
While a patrol base that size should have held a whole troop — equivalent to an army platoon — of men, Blackman's had been split in two in order to man two such bases. The other base was commanded by Blackman's troop leader Lieutenant Ollie Augustin.
Because of illness, injury and home leave, the numbers inside Omar sometimes fell to as few as a dozen. This was utterly inadequate to patrol such a hostile place — but the patrols still had to take place or the Taliban would dominate at will.
The court heard that because of under-manning some marines would be out on the ground for as long as ten hours a day, conducting both morning and evening patrols. They carried up to 50kg of equipment in soaring temperatures. As casualties mounted, Blackman began to send only unmarried marines with no children on the riskiest patrols, which he almost always led.
While firefights were common, the main danger and psychological pressure came from Improvised Explosive Devices — IEDs — which littered their area. It was estimated that an IED exploded — whether by a controlled detonation or the detonation of a land-mine — every 16 hours throughout their unit's six-month tour.
Trying to anticipate these horrific weapons demanded constant alertness and was exhausting. Each step could be your last and the 'signature' injury from Helmand was a loss of legs and genitalia from an IED blast. Mrs Blackman noticed that her husband still carefully searched the ground ahead of him when he returned home to Somerset. The fear was ingrained.
Sleeping arrangements: Conditions are shown to be incredibly tough - with soldiers needing to be ready for action at all times
A photograph taken from the base's sangar - a fortified observation tower - from which marines would keep a daily lookout
It was inevitable perhaps that Sgt Blackman's troop would take casualties. In May 2011, Lieutenant Augustin was leading his half-troop of marines on an operation when an IED was triggered.
Augustin, whom the experienced Blackman had mentored, was killed instantly, along with Marine Sam Alexander, a hugely popular soldier who had won a Military Cross on a previous tour, and their interpreter. Two other marines suffered life-changing injuries, while others were hurt or suffered psychological wounds.
This was the 'tipping point' of the tour. As the surviving marines slogged back to their temporary base (not Omar), they were confronted by the sight of the legs of a comrade hanging in a tree. It is believed the limbs belonged to a teenage marine from another company who had been killed by an IED earlier in the tour.
The body parts had been recovered and displayed in the tree as a 'trophy' by the Taliban.
The IED blast and the atrocity had an enormous impact on those present. 'I never again want to see guys in the state they were in that evening,' said one of the NCOs. 'My guys completely lost it.'
Sentry duty: Are there enemy creeping nearer? A soldier, his faced muzzed, inside the gun position at the top of the camp
Blackman was not present that day but felt deeply affected if not responsible for the death of the young lieutenant.
He and his men would later take part in the hunt for a young Scottish soldier who had gone AWOL from his base. The 20-year-old was eventually found dead, having been horribly tortured and murdered by the insurgents.
The thought of what happened to the Highlander stayed with the marines and no doubt further skewed their view of their mission and the local Afghan population.
Good leadership would have helped prevent Blackman's descent into the recognised psychological problems that the Ministry of Defence now accepts that he suffered. But his commanding officer Lt-Colonel Ewen Murchison visited Omar only twice — at most — during the entire tour. Such neglect allowed problems caused by enormous battlefield stresses to fester.
In the end, Sgt Blackman, a 'loner' in one of the loneliest and most dangerous jobs in the world and responsible for bringing the 16 men in Omar back home alive, simply lost the ability to cope.
Omar had no running water or electricity. The latter was supplied by a generator, and the fuel for this and the marines' bottled drinking water
How 'Big Al' Blackman served his country with distinction for 15 years before his bosses 'devastated' his life and dismissed him in disgrace
Sergeant Alexander Blackman (pictured on his wedding day with wife Claire in 2009) was jailed for life and dismissed in disgrace from the Royal Marines after serving with distinction for 15 years
Sergeant Alexander Blackman was jailed for life and dismissed in disgrace from the Royal Marines after serving with distinction for 15 years.
The 42-year-old, from Taunton, Somerset, has now won an appeal against his murder conviction at the Court Martial Appeal Court in London.
Five judges reduced his conviction for shooting an injured Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan in 2011 to manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
Blackman, who is 6ft 3in tall, is known as Big Al and Al to his family, friends and colleagues.
According to the website Justice for Marine A, Blackman grew up in Brighton with his parents, two sisters and a brother.
The keen sportsman worked on a dairy farm after leaving school before joining the Royal Marines in 1998, aged 23.
After completing his Junior Command Course, he joined Delta Company as a corporal and was deployed to the Gulf War on Operation Telic 1 in 2003.
He was deployed back to Iraq on Operation Telic 5 before completing further training, including his senior command course.
Blackman returned to 40 Commando as a sergeant and was deployed to Operation Telic 7, and served in Afghanistan with Alpha Company on Operation Herrick 7.
On his return, he joined the Central Training Team at the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, for two years.
In 2009, he married Claire in Somerset.
He was drafted to 42 Commando (J Company) for deployment to Afghanistan on Herrick 14 and promoted to Acting Colour Sergeant.
During his trial, in which he was known only as Marine A, Blackman said the start of the tour in March 2011 was quiet but stress began to build.
He described to Bulford Court Martial in Wiltshire the effects of the deaths of his troop commander and a fellow marine in a bomb blast on the tour.
Two others also suffered life-changing injuries.
He said the body parts of the victims were found in trees around the area.
'It's not a nice thing for the lads,' Blackman told the court martial. 'Close friends they have lived with have been killed and parts of their bodies are displayed as a kind of trophy for the world to see.'
Footage captured on a head camera of another marine on patrol with Blackman showed him killing the Taliban insurgent in September 2011.
After shooting the insurgent, Blackman told him: 'There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil you c***. It's nothing you wouldn't do to us.'
He then turned to comrades and said: 'Obviously this doesn't go anywhere fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.'
Joy: His wife and his legal team celebrate as five judges reduced his conviction for shooting an injured Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan in 2011 to manslaughter by diminished responsibility
Following the tour, Blackman worked on an operation training and advisory group preparing troops for deployment to Afghanistan, the Justice for Marine A website says.
In October 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of murder after the video footage was found on a Royal Marine's laptop during an unrelated investigation by civilian police.
His trial began in October 2013 and he was convicted of murder on November 8.
Blackman was jailed for life with a minimum term of 10 years in prison, which was later cut to eight.
In a statement issued through his solicitor after he was sentenced, Blackman said he was 'devastated'. He added that he had proudly served the Royal Marines for 15 years and was 'very sorry' for any damage caused.