Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 12:46 UK

Thousands join web campaign for dismissed Royal Marine

Mark Leader
Mark Leader was a Royal Marine sergeant based in Devon

More than 28,000 people have joined a campaign supporting a Devon-based former Royal Marine dismissed for assaulting an Afghan man with a boot.

Mark Leader, a sergeant at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone, was found guilty of assaulting a man detained on suspicion of planting a roadside bomb.

He was dismissed with Captain Jody Wheelhouse, of 45 Commando, Arbroath, who earlier admitted the same offence.

The campaign backing Leader was set up on social networking website Facebook.

'Lost everything'

The court martial, held earlier this month, heard that the two men assaulted Mohammed Ekhlas in March 2009 after he was arrested on suspicion of trying to plant an improvised explosive device (IED).

Mr Ekhlas needed four stitches to his lip, had a cut on his forehead and two of his teeth were loose after the attack.

Judge Michael Hunter described it as "a sustained assault on an injured and unarmed prisoner".

If it hadn't had such serious repercussions it would be like something from Dad's Army
Jo Cleary, Facebook group supporter

However, he added that it was "understandable" someone like Sgt Leader, who had seen friends killed by IEDs, would feel "a degree of hatred" towards those who planted them.

The court martial was told that 34-year-old Leader, who had served for 17 years, was set to lose up to £400,000 in pension and other benefits through his dismissal from the service.

Jo Cleary, 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."

"In the case of Mark Leader, he has lost everything and served 17 years for nothing.

"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."

The Ministry of Defence would not comment on individual cases but a spokesperson said that a discharge did not not automatically result in loss or reduction of pension.

Pensions can be forfeited for offences such as treason or violating the Official Secrets Act, the MoD added.

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