In the news Tim Spicer: Guns for hire from a soldier of fortune

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The Independent Online
FROM a glass-fronted office on London's once fashionable King's Road, Lt-Col Tim Spicer runs a company which provides soldiers, guns and know-how to those who can afford to pay, writes Andrew Buncombe.

A former British army officer who served in the Gulf and the Falklands War, Lt-Col Spicer is now a mercenary whose company Sandline International, has sent troops to all parts of the globe.

To many, the mention of a mercenary conjures images of stubbly-chinned desperadoes chancing their luck. Lt-Col Spicer is anything but. While things can go wrong, as they indeed did for Sandline in 1997 when they were flown out of Papua New Guinea at gunpoint, Lt-Col Spicer leaves nothing to chance.

"[Mercenary is] an interesting word. But I object to the image it conjures up," he once said. "In most cases it is derogatory. It implies ill-discipline and thuggery. We shy away from that image. Discipline and performance- wise, the people we employ have to be of a level of a First World army."

When pressed about his trade, Lt-Col Spicer says his company will only work only for sovereign governments - always legally - and does nothing that might conflict with the national interests of Britain or other friendly powers.

Lt-Col Spicer himself does not fit the image of one of the "Dogs of War" popularised by the likes of Frederick Forsyth. Firm but affable, he dresses casually and keeps trim by regular sessions of squash and skiing.

But a military man he most certainly is. He was born in October 1952 into a military family and was educated at a public school before spending several years "drifting around the world".

On his return, he started to pursue a military career and found his way to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. It was clear from an early stage that he was exceptional and in 1976 he won the Sword of Honour for the best cadet of his year. On leaving he was commissioned into the exclusive Scots Guards regiment.

In the Falklands, serving as a captain, he nearly died from the blast of an exploding artillery shell on Mount Tumbledown, one of the last major obstacles before the capture of Port Stanley.

A series of promotions followed and during the Gulf conflict he served as military assistant to General Sir Peter de la Billiere, the British commander.

His own command in Northern Ireland in 1992-3 won him an OBE, and his final posting - prior to taking a job in the City - was as spokesman for General Sir Michael Rose, UN forces chief in Bosnia.

But the City did not suit, and within a year he had left to set up Sandline, details surrounding the creation of which remain scarce.

"A lot of people say we're not very transparent," he has admitted. "And that's true enough. It's the nature of the business."

It is known however that Sandline does have close links with a number of businesses owned by Tony Buckingham, a former North Sea diver turned businessman.

His main businesses, Heritage Oil and Gas, Branch Energy and DiamondWorks, specialise in operating in some of the most physically demanding and politically turbulent areas in the world. Very pointedly DiamondWorks owns diamond concessions in Sierra Leone.

CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

The most notorious incident to involve Lt-Col Timothy Spicer and Sandline was when his mercenaries were hired by the government of Papua New Guinea to put down a rebellion on secessionist Bougainville island.

The deal, worth pounds 22.5m, went terribly wrong when he was detained by soldiers opposed to the contract struck by Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan. Spicer wound up hand-cuffed, humiliated and facing charges of illegally possessing a firearm.

TUMBLEDOWN TIM

Of the Falklands War, the conflict that earned him the nickname "Tumbledown Tim", he wrote of his own men: "The battalion was completely unprepared for going to war. Some of our officers ... had become social soldiers."

One colleague said he was a maverick who always marched to a different tune. Another was less kind: "He was the most arrogant, pompous bastard I have ever met."

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