EVERY night for the past three years, Frances Blackman has prayed for her son to give him hope and keep him safe.
Finally, her dearest wish has come true.
Tears streamed down her face as, at long last, she was able to tell her friends that Royal Marine Alexander Blackman would be coming home at last.
For the three long years Sergeant Blackman, 42, has been in prison for killing a Taliban insurgent, his mother has remained hopeful that his name would be cleared.
That day finally arrived last week when his murder conviction was downgraded to manslaughter.
Mrs Blackman, who usually volunteers at the local foodbank on Wednesdays, stayed at her home in Bevendean, Brighton, waiting for the news.
“My daughter phoned up and said it was on TV,” she said.
“And there it was and I was crying. Tears were streaming down my face.
“I’ve shed quite a few tears the past few years but these were tears of joy.
“Then I went down to the foodbank and told them all. The lady there said ‘you look better. You look so much less stressed’. They have all supported me.
“I’m just so happy. “
Mrs Blackman has prayed for her son every night.
“I prayed for him to keep strong and keep safe and to give him hope and finally it’s happened,” she said.
“I’ve tried to keep positive but every now and then I’ve thought will I still be here when he comes out? I’ve got my health but you never know.”
Mrs Blackman is now praying her youngest son will be home in time for Mother’s Day.
“That would be the best present ever,” she said.
Without him. special occasions have been tainted in recent years.
It was on her 74th birthday that widow Mrs Blackman was dealt the blow that her son would serve a minimum ten years in jail for murder.
Knowing the sentencing was imminent, her daughter had insisted she was not alone on the day.
She had been driving herself to her daughter’s home on Southampton when the news came on the radio.
Every Christmas, birthday and Mothering Sunday since has been tough. “You can’t just take his birthday present to prison,” said Mrs Blackman.
Prior to September 15, 2011, when he shot and killed a wounded Taliban insurgent, Sgt Blackman was by all accounts an exemplary serviceman.
Reminiscing, Mrs Blackman beams with pride.
“He might be 6ft 3in but he is still my little boy. He is different to his brother.
“Alexander would always give me a cuddle. He was always affectionate. When he got his first job he said he was going to pay for everything from then on.
“He was a lovely boy. When he joined the Marines at the age of 23 I was worried of course but I supported him.
“His dad had been signed up before as a tank driver and he was so proud. Brian was so proud when Alexander went up in rank.
“It would have broken Brian’s heart to know what happened.
“Alexander really struggled with his dad’s death. He was stuck in the traffic after there was an accident near the Palace Pier and he couldn’t get to the hospital in time. It always ate him up, that.”
The whole family has struggled to cope since October 2013 when the video of the incident – captured on a fellow Marine’s body camera – emerged and the subsequent court martial which saw him convicted of murder.
Led by Sgt Blackman’s wife Claire, there was a hug groundswell of support and the campaign “Justice for Marine A” was launched.
Mrs Blackman says she is indebted to everyone who had helped – but held the highest praise for her daughter-in-law.
“Claire deserves a medal,” she said. “It can be hard for a mum to give up their boys to another woman but when you see what she has done for him you can’t have any doubt how much she loves him. I really hope that when he gets out they take some time for themselves.”
Sgt Blackman’s supporters, including the author Frederick Forsyth, have accused Ministry of Defence top brass of being responsible for the circumstances that led to his actions.
His mother has seen the shocking video footage in which he took a man’s life.
But knowing her son as the kind-hearted hero who would have done anything to look after his men, she believes the military failed in their duty of care to him.
He had served six tours of Afghanistan in five years.
Mrs Blackman said: “I was shocked that he did what he did. I watched the documentaries. But I firmly believe he felt he was looking after his troops.
“He promised the mums of the other Marines that he would look after their sons. I think that’s what he was doing, looking after his troops.
“If he had a padre or someone else of senior rank with him to talk to I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened. It’s life and death. Every time they went out on patrol they didn’t know if they were going to be blown to pieces.
“Every step could have been their last step.
“You are living on your nerves. Alexander would have put himself in danger rather than anyone else.”
During his time in jail Sgt Blackman has been trying to keep his spirits up, studying for a degree, working in a library and teaching other prisoners English and maths.
His mother said he treats prison “just like another tour, just this time he’s not getting shot at”.
He will be sentenced for the lower charge of manslaughter on Friday but if the sentence is six years or less he will be released immediately, having already served half.
EXEMPLARY SOLDIER, NOT A COLD-BLOODED KILLER
ALEXANDER Blackman joined the Royal Marines aged 23.
For 15 years he served with distinction – including six tours of Afghanistan in five years.
In 2011, while deployed in Helmand, Sgt Blackman and his unit saw heavy fighting and his troop commander was killed.
On September 15, while fleeing an attack, Sgt Blackman shot a gravely injured Taliban insurgent in the chest.
The killing was captured on the helmet camera of another Marine, which surfaced as part of a separate investigation in 2012.
Sgt Blackman was one of three Marines called in front of a court martial and he was found guilty of murder. He was originally sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of ten years, later reduce to eight.
His first appeal failed but following the high-profile campaign to free him, a 1,100-page dossier of new evidence was put before the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The commission found failings with his original defence team, which represented Sgt Blackman as well as Marines B and C, and said concerns were never raised over his mental wellbeing.
Five judges who presided over the hearing at the Court Martial Appeal Court concluded that he was not a “cold blooded killer” but was suffering “exceptional” stress.
Recognising he was suffering from a mental disorder, his conviction was downgraded to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Marines who served alongside Blackman spoke in support of him in a documentary shown on Wednesday night.
Rob Driscoll said: “Were we feral? I don’t really know what we were at the end.
“I think we were just shell-shocked if anything.”
Louis Nethercott, a machine gunner working with Blackman that day, added: “It was a bloody tough tour for every individual man.
“There is a point at which he has had too much or seen too much or is too tired or is too stressed and that’s a fact for everybody.”