'I'm a dead man' – the Briton facing execution in a Baghdad jail

As Danny Fitzsimons awaits trial for murder, Terri Judd hears his parents' concerns
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The Independent Online

From a police cell crammed with Iraqi prisoners, Danny Fitzsimons texted furiously: "I love you too Dad. I always have and always will. Even though we have had our differences and are very different men. I have been very cruel to you and for that I am sorry from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry."

In three weeks the former soldier will go before a Baghdad court to hear the verdict in his case. If found guilty of murdering two fellow security contractors, the 30-year-old could face the death penalty.

Back in Rochdale, Eric Fitzsimons, 62, contemplated the text. "I have been saying my prayers something rotten," said the former teacher, who has not seen his son since the night in August 2009 when Danny shot fellow ArmorGroup security contractors, former Royal Marine Paul McGuigan and Australian Darren Hoare, and wounded Iraqi Arkhan Mahdi after a whiskey-fuelled brawl in Baghdad's Green Zone.

He is desperate to travel to Iraq, along with Danny's brother Michael, to see his son but the cost of security to enter what is still effectively a war zone is prohibitive.

Last week G4S, the parent company of ArmorGroup that employed Mr Fitzsimons despite the fact he had previously been diagnosed with mental health problems, was awaiting trial for assault and sacked from two other companies, refused to help them.

"His dad and brother really, really need to get out there and see him, for their own peace of mind. At the end of the day, if he was given the death penalty it might be the last time they do see him," explained Mr Fitzsimons's stepmother Liz, also a teacher. "Either scenario frightens the living daylights out of me. We know people are saying there are two men dead. But it has been a tragedy for everybody."

Last Saturday, just before the second day of his two-day murder trial, Mr Fitzsimons called in a panic, terrified he was about to be transferred from a police cell in the Green Zone to Baghdad's infamous Rusafa jail. "I am a dead man. It is full of Al Qa'ida and Mujahideen. They will kill me," he repeated. He said previously: "Not a minute, not a second goes by when I don't wish I could turn back time but I can't."

In another text, he wrote: "I despise the way my mind plays tricks and the voices only I can hear are beyond my control. I hate them. They never leave me in peace. My heart is solid gold but my head is well * truly out there."

The family is relying on appeals in local papers to raise funds for a visit to Baghdad. So far they have collected £900 but security alone for the trip would cost them £16,000. On Sunday, Mr Fitzsimons, the first Westerner to be tried under the new Iraqi government, told a three-judge panel he was acting in self-defence.

He denied murdering the two westerners and attempting to kill Mr Mahdi but asked the judges to consider a plea of manslaughter. The panel is now examining psychiatric reports.

Mr Fitzsimons Snr and his wife make no excuses for him but they point out he has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They want him brought home and dealt with by a British legal system with appropriate psychiatric treatment.

A document dating back to 2002 detailed how Mr Fitzsimons had been "delighted" to join the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, but remained haunted by what he had seen previously serving with The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, in Kosovo. He talked of decomposing bodies in mass graves and the severed limbs of an 11-year-old boy he had found in a fridge. He was suffering from hyper-vigilance, flash backs and anxiety.

Upon discharge from the army in 2004, Mr Fitzsimons took up security work in Iraq during which he witnessed a friend being blown apart by a roadside bomb. Back home he was increasingly getting into trouble and suicidal. He covered his flat with scrawlings about death and lost friends. PTSD was confirmed. Yet in August 2009 he flew to Baghdad to begin a contract with ArmorGroup. Within 36 hours he had killed Mr McGuigan and Mr Hoare and wounded Mr Mahdi.

G4S, which had a turnover of £7bn in 2009 and announced pre-tax profits of £500m, sacked Mr Fitzsimons. It said it had provided a "significant contribution" to his legal expenses. A spokesman said the company's main reason for refusing any more help for the family was because it would distress the relatives of the dead men.

He added: "We know there is still a high level of emotion over the case from our employees in Iraq and, as such, do not believe we should impose further on the high levels of integrity they have shown in providing such dedicated and professional duty of care to Mr Fitzsimons over such a long period."

Mrs Fitzsimons said: "It has got to the point of thinking how much longer can this go on, how much longer do we have to live in this nightmare?"