British ex-soldier Danny Fitzsimons sentenced to life imprisonment as Iraqi court accepts evidence of mental illness
February 28, 2011
Press conference: 12 midday, Monday 28th February 4th Floor Conference Room, Institute for War & Peace Reporting 48 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT
Liz and Eric Fitzsimons, Danny’s father and step-mother
Tineke Harris, Death Penalty Director, Reprieve
The Karkh Criminal Court of Iraq this morning sentenced 31-year-old ex-soldier Danny Fitzsimons to life in prison for the murder of fellow security contractors Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare in Baghdad’s Green Zone in August 2009.
Reprieve is relieved that the court chose not to impose a death sentence, apparently accepting evidence that Danny was suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a consequence of his experiences while serving in the British Army.
During a tour of Kosovo, Danny’s unit uncovered several mass graves and Danny stumbled across the dismembered body of a child who had delivered bread to the troops and whom he had befriended. Danny was subsequently discharged from the military, displaying severe and dramatic symptoms of PTSD.
Danny’s family became extremely anxious about his mental health and panicked when they found he had been sent back to Iraq by security giant ArmourGroup (now G4S), who had conducted only minimal checks and failed to spot Danny’s instability. Their worst fears were realised within 36 hours of Danny arriving in Baghdad, as the incident took place which saw Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare die.
PTSD is a serious and debilitating condition that causes flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance and aggression. Under psychological stress, a sufferer can dissociate from reality and lose control over their impulses.
Reprieve and Danny’s family remain extremely concerned for Danny’s safety as he is expected to be moved from the Green Zone to Baghdad’s Rusafa prison. As a former British soldier and private security contractor, Danny will be at particular risk of violence from fellow inmates — and his psychiatric problems are likely to worsen. Reprieve is asking G4S to take an ongoing humanitarian responsibility for Danny and his family, including providing treatment for his psychiatric condition.
Despite G4S’s negligence in providing a disturbed young man with firearms and sending him to work in distressing conditions, the company has since attempted to wash their hands of him. G4S contributed just $75,000 towards his legal fees, whilst a proper defence would have cost about $1.8 million.
Liz Fitzsimons, Danny’s step-mother, said: “Our hearts go out to the families of Paul McGuignan and Darren Hoare, but we are greatly relieved that Danny has not been sentenced to death. We now beseech the Iraqi authorities and the British government to show proper regard for Danny’s fragile mental state and ensure his welfare and safetywhen he is transferred to a prison outside the Green Zone.”
Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve said:“If G4S had done the proper checks and risk assessments when Danny applied to work with them, they would have quickly seen that he was suffering from serious PTSD, a consequence of loyally serving his country. Instead they conducted minimal checks and sent him off to Iraq. Now Danny could spend the rest of his life in a hostile prison hundreds of miles from home, when he should be receiving psychiatric treatment.”
Requests for interviews with Liz Fitzsimons, Danny’s step-mother, should directed to Reprieve. For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7427 1099 / 07931592674.
Notes for Editors:
About Danny Fitzsimons:
Danny Fitzsimons had always wanted to join the army. He joined the Royal Fusiliers at the first opportunity, aged just 16, and was sent on his first tour shortly after his 18th birthday. The letters he sent to his family show a young man who was living his dream, boasting about his training regime and how many press ups he could do. However, whilst on his first tour to Kosovo, Danny experienced some extremely disturbing events as his unit began to uncover mass graves. Danny also discovered the dismembered body of a child who had delivered the troops bread and whom he had befriended.
Upon leaving the army, Danny started to work as a private security contractor in Iraq, where he witnessed more traumatic events, including the death of a close friend: “The truck in front of him in his convoy was hit by an IED. The plastic doors of the truck sealed shut in the heat, and one of his team was shut inside. His friend screamed for Danny to get him out, but Danny could not break the window of the truck as it was bulletproof glass. He was forced to watch his friend burn inside the truck unable to help.”
Danny was diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in May 2008.
Despite this, in 2009 Danny was hired by ArmourGroup in August and sent out to Iraq without conducting a full medical assessment. This despite Human Resources Director, Christopher Beese stating in September 2004: “It seems extraordinary that the doorman of a night club … may have to be vetted and licensed while the same man can be equipped with a rifle, an armoured vehicle and be engaged to protect diamond concessions for a foreign regime in a clear breach of the public interest and perhaps even in contravention of human rights [but he] needs no such regulation.”
Within 36 hours of his arrival, the incident took place which saw Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare die.
Armour Group have since been taken over by G4S, a multinational group with a turnover of $9.504 billion that saw its 2008 profits rise by 22%. The company has been mired in controversy following the disclosure of bizarre hazing and drunkenness at the Embassy in Kabul.
G4S have tried to wash their hands of Danny with a payment of $75,000 towards his legal fees. However, the nature of a capital trial and the added difficulties of the situation in Iraq mean that a proper defence would cost $1.8 million – amounting to 0.0002% of G4S’s annual turnover. Their offer of $75,000 works out at just 0.000008% of turnover.
On 13 June 2010, the Iraqi court ordered that Danny should undergo a series of mental health assessments. The hearings in Danny’s case were repeatedly adjourned, while Danny waited for the assessments to take place. The assessments were conducted in December 2010.
On 29 December 2010, the court heard evidence from the prosecution and called witnesses. On 23 January 2011, the court heard further evidence and Danny was called on to testify.
Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.
Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’
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