New delay for Briton facing death penalty in Iraq

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The Independent Online

A former British soldier potentially facing the death penalty in Iraq insisted that he remained anxious but hopeful as his case was adjourned last night.

Danny Fitzsimons prepared himself yesterday morning to hear the verdict as he was brought into the dock at Karkh criminal court in west Baghdad. Nearby his father Eric, 62, and younger brother Michael, 27, waited nervously in a packed public gallery having travelled to the war torn nation to be by his side for the final day of his trial.

"It has been a very emotional day, very anxious," his brother said. "But seeing him in court gave us a sense of unity as a family"

But their 18 month wait to hear his fate was frustrated once again as the judge announced that he was adjourning the case for eight days as they were seeking clarification from doctors about psychiatric reports on the defendants.

Last night, speaking exclusively to The Independent at his cell at the Karadt Mariam police station within Baghdad's International Zone, Mr Fitzsimons said he was heartened by the fact the court was focusing on the health reports. The former soldier has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress stemming from the horrors he saw while serving in the army in Kosovo as well as his time working as a private security contractor in Iraq. He could face execution if convicted.

"I think it was a postive step," said the 30-year-old. "Obviously I hope to be acquitted for self defence but even manslaughter would be a result. I do remain hopeful but it is 50/50. Seeing my family today and having them in court what great. If wish it could have happened every time I was in court. I have felt 100 per cent better than I did before since they turned up yesterday."

In August 2009, Mr Fitzsimons arrived in Baghdad, having been employed by ArmorGroup, owned by G4S, despite his mental health problems, the fact he had been sacked from two other security firms and was awaiting trial for assault in Britain. Within 36 hours he had shot fellow ArmorGroup security contractors, former Royal Marine Paul McGuigan and Australian Darren Hoare, and wounded Iraqi Arkhan Mahdi after a whiskey-fuelled brawl.

The first westerner to stand trial at a time when the Iraqi government is clamping down on security contractors who operated almost unchecked during the early days of the war, he has been charged with murdering the two 37-year-olds and attempting to kill the Iraqi guard.

Denying the charge Mr Fitzsimons asked a three-judge panel last month to consider a plea agreement that would convict him on lesser manslaughter charges.

Last night he veered from the angry rantings to calmer logic as he spoke in his defence "You can never get used to this place. I might look like I am handling it well but underneath I am suffering from constant anxiety. I have reoccuring dreams of things that have happened. My biggest fear is being jailed here," he said.

His family are hoping they can convince the British Government to appeal for him to be transfered to serve any time in a British jail and get appropriate psychiatric care.

His father said: "I just hope he can be brought back to Britain to face justice and get help."

Back at his cell after the hearing, Mr Fitzsimons added: "I dream of home every day, I think about Blighty. I just want to be back with the people I love with my friends and family. I miss everything about Britain. I miss the rotten weather. My dream is to be put in a British jail. I dream about that every day, running water, a toilet, electricity.

"It has been a lonely 18 months but you get used to it. The isolation is something I have got used to. Even when the cell has been full, I have never felt so alone surrounded by 20 people."