20,000 back welly assault ex-marine

More than 20,000 people have signed up to a campaign supporting a Royal Marine Sergeant dismissed from the forces after assaulting an Afghan prisoner with a Wellington boot.

Sergeant Mark Leader, who was based at the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, could lose his pension after a court martial found him guilty of causing actual bodily harm to Mohammad Ekhlas in March last year. Jo Cleary, 43, from Kent, who helps run the Facebook group Justice for Royal Marine Commando Mark Leader, said: “We are talking about a Wellington boot. If it hadn’t had such serious repercussions it would be like something from Dad’s Army.”

More than 20,000 people have joined it since it was set up on Sunday. They are also asked to sign a petition calling for Sgt Leader’s reinstatement and the return of his pension rights. His colleague, Captain Jody Wheelhouse, was also dismissed after admitting the offence. s Cleary said: “I’m not condoning what they did and they should have been reprimanded, possibly, or taken down a rank. But we can not afford to lose two fine marines. They should certainly both keep their pensions if they can not be reinstated.”

The court martial, which was held earlier this month, heard Mr Ekhlas was arrested on suspicion of trying to plant an improvised explosive device (IED).

Judge Michael Hunter described the attack on him as “a sustained assault on an injured and unarmed prisoner”, but told the court it was “understandable” someone like Sgt Leader, who had seen friends killed by IEDs, would feel “a degree of hatred” towards those who plant them. Leader, 34, a married father of a five-week-old son, claimed he had only hit Mr Ekhlas because he believed he was trying to escape but the court martial panel declared they did not believe this version of events. Mr Ekhlas needed four stitches to his lip, had a cut on his forehead and two of his teeth were loose after the attack. He was later handed over to the Afghan authorities, then released and cannot now be traced, the court was told.

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