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The Human Timebomb: Why Was He Given Iraq Job?

by Terri Judd

A British military contractor accused of shooting dead two of his colleagues in Iraq was hired despite being sacked from another security firm and having a long history of psychiatric illness, The Independent has learnt.

Daniel Fitzsimons, 29, is in Iraqi custody facing charges of premeditated murder after the shooting of fellow ArmorGroup colleagues Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoar and wounding Iraqi worker Arkhan Mahdi. If convicted he faces execution. (File) Daniel Fitzsimons, 29, is in Iraqi custody facing charges of premeditated murder after the shooting of fellow ArmorGroup colleagues Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoar and wounding Iraqi worker Arkhan Mahdi. If convicted he faces execution.

Last night, in an interview with The Independent, his family revealed that just months before being hired by ArmorGroup, a psychiatric report had found Mr Fitzsimons was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress with repeated flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety attacks.

He had also been dismissed by the security firm Aegis while working in Iraq for "extreme negligence". At the time he was taken on by ArmorGroup he was awaiting trial for assault having already been convicted of three other crimes including robbery, possession of ammunition and public order offences. The incident happened within 36 hours of Mr Fitzsimons arriving back in Iraq.

Last night his father and stepmother, both teachers from Manchester, said others also bore responsibility for what happened: "We did not even know he had gone out there," they said. "He patently should not have been allowed to go to Iraq. He is extremely poorly."

ArmorGroup last night said they could not comment on the specific allegations due to the ongoing investigation and added: "Under our terms of employment, employees are obliged to provide a medical certificate prior to posting overseas that confirms they are fit to do so."

But Mike Hancock, the longest-serving member of the Commons defence select committee, said he would be pressing for an early investigation into the controls on private defence firms.

"It's unacceptable for any security company to take on any former member of the armed forces without thorough medical checks and pre-counselling. We need to legislate. Companies that recruit in the UK should be covered by British laws and have a responsibility to check the mental health wellbeing of the people they take on."

In the interview Mr Fitzsimons's father, Eric, and stepmother, Liz, said their son had been diagnosed with a form of stress disorder when he was discharged from the army five years ago. But this had been exacerbated by repeated tours with security companies in Iraq in which he had been injured and lost countless friends to bombs. A recent assessment had found his condition had worsened.

Mr Fitzsimons said his son should be recognised as another victim of the shooting. "We do feel very, very sorry for these two men and their families. But Daniel is also a victim."

The couple explained the family were terrified that he would be made an example of for a multi-billion dollar industry, whose employees recently lost immunity following a shootout involving US security firm Backwater in which 17 civilians were killed.

"We are worried the trial will be rushed through and he will be made a scapegoat. We can't let that happen."

The family said that Mr Fitzsimons was discharged from the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment after tours in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. But they insisted it was the dangerous work that he carried out for private security companies in Iraq that had sent him on a dramatic spiral downwards exacerbated by drink and prescription medication.

The company have agreed to the family's request to send out their own British legal team to Baghdad adding thar ArmorGroup were making arrangement for an English speaking Iraqi lawyer as well.

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army officer, called for regular checks on defence companies' recruitment policies. He said: "They need to be audited in terms of what strictures they apply to the people they recruit. The Government must be involved in that."

Mr Mercer, chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism sub-committee, said the performance of such firms in checking staff were "mentally grounded" was "very mixed".

He added: "I have always argued that the discharge of veterans should be very carefully handled."

Mr Fitzsimons's MP, Jim Dobbin, said last night: "Questions have to be asked about why he was out there, did the company know he had psychological problems, and that he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Quite honestly if it did know of that, then it must be culpable."

Christopher Beese, director of human resources at ArmorGroup, said: "ArmorGroup has a duty of care to Daniel Fitzsimons as an employee and we are discharging those responsibilities.

"Senior managers are visiting him daily to ensure his human rights are being met, that he is safe, and has an opportunity to communicate with his family and with his lawyer.

"Yesterday he was visited by an ArmorGroup team and representatives of the UK embassy, and provided with medical care, food, water and access to a mobile phone. The company is making arrangements for his UK legal representative to travel to Iraq safely and securely as soon as possible."

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