Security industry to review vetting after report on murder suspect

Case of Daniel Fitzsimons highlights need for change
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The Independent Online

The private security industry regulator has promised to tighten vetting practices after The Independent revealed that the man accused of shooting dead two fellow security contractors in Iraq had a long history of psychiatric illness, was awaiting trial for assault and had previously been sacked by another private security company.

The Government has recently held a six-month consultation into the multi-million dollar private security industry – which boomed in the early days of the Iraq conflict leading to concerns about the number of unregulated companies – and is expected to report back later this year, recommending self regulation with international cooperation to raise standards.

Andy Bearpark, the director general of the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC) said one of the matters being considered was vetting procedures. "This case will draw this review into sharp focus," he said. "At the moment every company has different procedures. Common sense tells us that there should be standard procedure."

Mr Fitzsimons, 29, who is currently facing charges of murder and execution if found guilty, is as much a victim as the dead men, say his family, because he had documented psychiatric problems following combat duties with the British Army. He had also had a criminal record and been sacked for "extreme negligence" by Aegis, another security company.

ArmorGroup, the company who hired Mr Fitzsimons, said in a statement yesterday that it would not comment on individual cases but maintained that it has, "strong vetting and screening policy and processes in place". It claims that these procedures include: "Assessing applicants' backgrounds and likely resilience to stress in the recruiting process to ensure that those employed will be resilient on account of prior active service and an independent medical report that candidates are obliged to provide."

Mr Fitzsimons's family feel that a screening policy should have prevented him from being hired by ArmorGroup. His stepmother said: "He shouldn't have been allowed back into a warzone in the state of mind he was in."

Mr Bearpark argues that a greater level of cooperation between companies, in this competitive industry, is needed. "We have suggested if companies do not want to deal directly, BAPSC could provide a central register," he said. While the association currently has a charter, this latest review is likely to lead to the formation of a detailed code of conduct. "The private security industry is essential if the UK is to play its role in reconstruction of fragile states such as Afghanistan and Iraq. BAPSC was formed to ensure that standards in all areas were raised and that the very best practices were used by the industry generally. We have worked with the British Government since our formation in 2005 to ensure that this is the case," he added.

A Foreign Office spokesman said that self regulation looked like the most likely option. "Given the activities of UK private military and security companies overseas, often in countries with weak legal systems and where it would be difficult to collect reliable evidence and witnesses, there would be problems investigating and enforcing any breach of regulation such as a licensing regime.

"We believe self-regulation through the industry association in conjunction with international cooperation to raise standards is more likely to achieve the desired outcome, namely, to improve standards of conduct by security companies internationally, and reduce the risk that a UK company breaches international standards."

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