It was almost four years since ‘Marine A’ last stepped into a courtroom; on that day in 2013 he was sentenced by court martial to 10 years for shooting a fatally injured Taliban insurgent. Branded a murderer and disowned by his regiment, he might have been forgiven for wanting to have nothing to do with the forces. But for Alexander – known as Al – who had vowed to use his life to help veterans, there was only one answer: “Yes, of course”. He says: “I was asked whether I’d help make his transition as easy as possible. Why wouldn’t I?” The 6ft 4in Marine had been hurled into a public storm after video footage emerged of him seemingly “dispatching” the insurgent in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Yet even before an appeal found that he’d been suffering from mental health issues and reduced his conviction to manslaughter, and before the regiment revoked its dishonourable discharge, Al knew that his belief in the Royal Marines would remain unshaken.
Now Al, 44, has told his traumatic tale in the book, Marine A. Not only does he not bear a grudge but he also made it a point, after his release, to join its charity and support network in his desire to help veterans.
That’s on top of his day job for new non-profit organisation ExFor+, which helps former personnel from across the Armed Forces find work and support.
Among them, he knows, will be those who survived improvised explosive devices only to find they’d been walking through a minefield of mental health time bombs. It had happened to him.
“My dishonourable discharge was the thing that hurt the most, I saw it wash away any good I may have done over 16 years,” he said last night. “It was such a relief when the appeal judges took that stain away, boiling it down to an administrative discharge – the same as if I’d chosen to leave.”
Proudly, he adds: “I’m still part of the Royal Marines family: despite what some may think, they didn’t turn their back on me.
“Even before my appeal I received visits in prison from the Commandant General, the Corps RSM and padre. The support for my wife Claire continued, too.”
It took several interviews before what he’d been arrested over became clear.
“We were involved in a fair few firefights and, however you want to look at it, insurgents were killed. So when someone starts talking about the death of an insurgent, you scratch your head and think, ‘Which one?’ Then they talk about a wounded insurgent and, again, you wonder which one?”
Military police played him a video found on another marine’s headcam and the penny dropped. In it a sergeant orders his unit to halt first aid to the Taliban fighter, shot by an Apache Gunship.
The case for murder centred on Al firing his 9mm automatic, killing him with the words: “Shuffle off this mortal coil, you ****, it’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.”
He says: “I began to wonder about the rest of my life. It wasn’t good viewing, not my finest hour.” Remarkably, he underwent no mental health test before conviction, and new evidence that he was suffering adjustment disorder, a type of combat stress, was key to winning his second appeal. But first he had to survive prison.
Claire faithfully made the eight-hour round trip to HMP Lincoln from Somerset, ferrying relatives and friends on a rota. Al had ignored the advice of military police to grow his hair long and lose his military identifiers.
“I didn’t agree with the conviction, but I wasn’t going to abandon who I was,” he says. Rumours circulated that the loner who spent days in his cell reading was a sex offender. Then an inmate knocked on his door. “He told me: ‘Don’t worry, I’ve let the lads know who you are, you’re that Marine’. It was good to understand everyone wasn’t against me.”
Before long he was helping inmates pass GCSEs. “A simple thank you inside meant the world to me,” he recalls. “I knew I’d made a very small difference to that person’s rehabilitation.”
His advice to that Exeter veteran typifies the attitude that saw him survive suicide watch and thrive. “There are a lot of exservice personnel working as prison officers. I told him that being polite goes a long way.”
It was the lesson he tried to tell inmates at Lincoln, the Victorian prison “just like Porridge” which had threatened to be his home for the next decade.
Al has been outside an institution, either army or jail, for two years.
His book helped him settle: “I tried to make it as honest as possible, I’m happy that readers make up their own minds.” Now, ghosts slain, he and Claire have a new home in Somerset. “It’s a fresh start,” he says. “We’re looking forward to what comes ahead.”
To order Marine A (Mirror Books, £20), free P&P, visit expressbookshop.co.uk, call 01872 562310 or send a cheque/ postal order made payable to Express Bookshop to Marine A Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 4WJ
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