An Army finance sergeant has been cleared of stealing £100,000 from the SAS in Hereford.
Staff Sergeant Mark McKay, 35, of the Adjutant General's Corps (AGC), was found not guilty of stealing 200,000 US dollars from a cash office at the Hereford base of 22 Special Air Service (SAS), to whom he was attached when the elite unit deployed to the Gulf in February 2003 for the second Iraq war.
At a week-long court martial at Bulford military court in Wiltshire, father-of-two McKay claimed he made the sum legitimately by running his own privately-funded tuck shop, selling alcohol, toiletries and even Viagra to the 5,000 US, 70 Australian and 200 UK troops at his base in the Gulf.
A board of five Army officers - the military equivalent of a jury - took an hour and 20 minutes to return its not guilty verdict.
Although the prosecution alleged McKay stole Ministry of Defence cash from an SAS cash office, they were not able to prove it actually belonged to the MoD or that anyone had noticed it was missing from regimental accounts.
The court martial heard how McKay's alleged dishonesty came to light in April 2006 when military police, acting on a tip-off, searched McKay's home in Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, where he was posted in July 2004 after leaving the SAS.
They found 200,000 US dollars in plastic bags hidden in a terracotta plant pot outside McKay's front door, the court martial heard.
McKay maintained in court that the sum was just part of the 371,000 US dollars he had made from his Gulf-based shop, which he ran in addition to his official role as a finance clerk.
He claimed that during his 12-week deployment with the SAS, from February to May 2003, he bought, among other things, cases of beer for 20 US dollars and sold them on for up to 100 dollars.
McKay initially told military police the 200,000 dollars was surplus from the SAS's Gulf War account, which he closed in 2003 to his bosses' satisfaction. But he told his trial this was a lie and that in fact the cash was profit from his personal war zone shop.
Breaking down as he gave evidence, he said he felt "ashamed" at having made so much money out of his colleagues. He also said he had been reluctant to tell the truth because he was not allowed to talk about SAS operations.
McKay, now based at Camberley in Surrey, said he had concealed the cash in a flower pot in Ballykelly to hide it from his wife, with whom he was breaking up at the time.
John Mackenzie, McKay's barrister, said outside court: "Mark will now be promoted to Sergeant Major - a promotion that has been on hold since the money was found."
During the trial a representative from the Director of Special Forces attended court and made an unsuccessful attempt to have certain operational details about the SAS's 2003 deployment to "a country bordering Iraq" made secret.
The application, which Judge Hunter rejected, concerned not naming the nationalities of troops at the base and their numerical strengths. MoD policy is to neither confirm nor deny any Special Forces activity.
The Special Forces representative stayed at the court throughout the case - to Mr Mackenzie's annoyance.
Mr Mackenzie said: "We are seriously dismayed at the attempts made by the Director of Special Forces to influence the course of this trial, to the extent where the defendant was intimidated while he was giving evidence.
"It has got to be of considerable concern that a soldier of Mark's ability, who spent four years on frequent deployments with the SAS, working to the extent that his family collapsed, ends up being treated like a pariah.
"Not only that, but the whole defence team was being harassed by the Director of Special Forces trying to suppress evidence we presented.
"It is intolerable that the Director of Special Forces should intentionally try to influence court proceedings in the UK. He is clearly beyond the control of the MoD. I shall be calling for a Parliamentary inquiry into this."
The country where the SAS were based in 2003 was not mentioned in open court.