09:03, April 27 372 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-27 09:03:03
Royal Marine Alexander Blackman to be released on Friday

Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marine sergeant jailed for killing a wounded Taliban fighter, is to be released in the early hours of Friday, the Guardian can reveal.

It is understood Blackman will be whisked out of Erlestoke prison in Wiltshire by police to avoid a media scrum and be reunited with his wife, Claire, at a secret location.

Blackman’s conviction for murder was quashed last month and his life sentence replaced with seven years in prison.

Initially his legal team anticipated he would be out by Easter but they appear to have miscalculated, leading to frustration at the apparent delay.

On Thursday a source close to the case said Blackman’s release was going to take place in the early hours of Friday.

Frederick Forsyth, the thriller writer who has been a leading light in the campaign to overturn the murder conviction, said his release sounded like something from a spy novel.

Forsyth said: “The establishment wants to spirit him out in the middle of the night to a secret location. If I wrote this in a book people would say that’s just not the way things are done in Britain. But it is these days.”

Blackman was convicted of murder in 2013 and jailed for life. After a campaign led by his wife and taken up by the Daily Mail, the conviction was quashed after the court martial appeal court heard he had been suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the shooting in Helmand in 2011. His conviction was replaced with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Blackman has spent the final weeks of his time in prison planning his future outside – and handing over the reins of the library, where he worked.

He is said to have had job offers in the security industry and may write a book on his experiences. As well as looking forward to being reunited with family and friends he is understood to be keen to play a round of golf.

Blackman is still entitled to a military pension and supporters have raised money to help him and his wife set themselves up once he is released.

The secret release will also help secure an exclusive interview for the Daily Mail. Claire Blackman has made it clear she will tell her story to the paper whose readers raised almost £1m to pay for her husband’s legal fight.

Another key supporter, former marine John Davies, wrote on the Justice for Marine A Facebook page (Blackman’s code name during his original court martial): “Al is not home yet but will be soon. There is no conspiracy or people delaying his release on purpose. Al will serve what is required no more … no less.

“Although everybody is frustrated both Al and Claire are absolutely delighted as they can now plan for their future together … As soon as he is released I will of course let everyone know.”

Life will never be the same for the Blackmans. The Guardian revealed last month that police had warned them they could be terrorist targets and they have been advised to take a series of precautions including changing their identities and moving house.

The prison service has refused to discuss Blackman’s release or confirm the timing.