‘I will either get shot there or kill myself’

Deranged screams, suicide threats and violent outbursts. The family of Daniel Fitzsimons are appalled he was judged fit for Iraq, reports Terri Judd

Sunday 23 October 2011 03:04

When Daniel Fitzsimons' family walked into his flat they were horrified by what they saw.

Scrawled across every inch of wall in black marker pen were poems about death and destruction, diatribes about the loss of friends, and ramblings about fellow fallen soldiers. It was the most disturbing sign that the 29-year-old was unrecognisable from the boy who had grown up in an academic Manchester family.

His brother Michael said his leg jittered constantly, and at night he paced the floor screaming so loudly he woke his neighbours. He sobbed as he spoke of the child's head he had found in Kosovo, picking up bits of his friend's brain in Iraq and the faces of those he had killed.

Since being discharged from the Parachute Regiment he had been unable to cope with "civvy street" and sought refuge in the private security industry in Iraq.

"He used to be intelligent, mischievous and funny with a great sense of humour," Michael Fitzsimons, 26, said. "I was looking at my brother who I loved to bits but I was frightened of him. He was volatile, lost and lonely. He would say, 'I am fucked up. I am gone. I have had a pistol in my hand with one in the chamber and I have been close (to suicide).' He said to me: 'I won't make it past 30. I will either get shot out there or kill myself.' "

The once proud Para fell into a world of drink and prescription drugs – medication to fend off the demons and help him sleep. He got in trouble with the law and pushed his family away.

They wanted him to seek help. Instead they picked up the phone to a friend last Sunday to be told they should check the news. Unaware that he was even in Iraq, they read that he was accused of killing two fellow ArmorGroup security contractors in Baghdad.

The Fitzsimons's home on the outskirts of Manchester is a universe away from the multibillion dollar contracts and violence of Iraq's capital city. Daniel's father Eric and his stepmother Liz – both teachers – have been on the phone for the past week.

Through his lawyer in the UK he claims his two Western colleagues had been taunting him during a drinking session, and when they beat him he reached for his gun. As he escaped he is alleged to have also shot an Iraqi worker in the leg before being subdued by military police.

Mr and Mrs Fitzsimons are terrified their son is going to be rushed through the Iraqi court system and face execution to avoid embarrassing the controversial private security industry.

"We feel deeply for the two men who were shot and their families but there is a third victim in this. He is very, very poorly. He should not have got a paid post working for a private security firm," Mrs Fitzsimons said. "We are normal, law-abiding people. We are both teachers and his mum is a librarian. We are upstanding pillars of the community. All we want is for ArmorGroup to fund a good lawyer to get our British legal team out there and to help us be there for him in court. I hate to think how frightened he must feel now."

Daniel Fitzsimons always wanted to join the Army and signed up at 16. He completed tours of Bosnia and Kosovo with the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, where it appears his problem started.In Kosovo, the young fusilier and his fellow soldiers befriended a local boy who would go to the shops for them and in return they sewed Army badges on his T-shirt. One day Mr Fitzsimons opened a fridge door to find the youngster's chopped remains covered in flies. It was among the many bodies, he told his family, that he had to deal with.

In 2000, determined to take on a new challenge, he transferred to the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and saw tours in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan.

"He talked about the Taliban and said: 'I have been shot at loads of times but these guys are completely different. You can tell by their faces they really mean business,'" said his brother Michael.

In 2004 he drunkenly punched an officer, and was held back when his battalion was sent to Iraq.

A psychiatric report at the time stated that he had combat stress – an adjustment disorder aggravated by alcohol. He was suffering from flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance and a constant fear that he was going to be attacked from behind. He talked of the smell of singed hair and the sound of dripping water bringing back bad memories. Months later he was discharged from the Army.

"He tried to work as a security guard at a bowling alley but he said they were unprofessional. He couldn't cope with normal life," his brother said.

He signed on to work in the security industry and headed to Iraq working for several companies including ArmorGroup. In one incident he was travelling in a convoy when it was hit by a roadside bomb that killed the driver and blasted a friend, who was seated next to him, to pieces. Daniel had to collect and bag the body parts.

"It is clear to me that his time in the army was not half as bad as what he has seen since. He got a lot worse in the last few years," Michael Fitzsimons said. On another occasion a convoy was ambushed and he was shot in the foot while a friend was killed.

In 2007, after five months working for another security company, Aegis, he was sacked for extreme negligence and fined $3,000 (£1,800).

He returned home a shattered man. Neighbours on the red-brick Manchester estate where he kept a flat described him as endlessly polite and willing to please, but tortured.

"He was a great guy, a daft bugger and such a good lad but he just couldn't cope with civvy street. The only life he knew was the Army and he was lost without his friends. We could hear him shouting at night, "Para down, para down," said his friend Alan Grimshaw.

In May 2007, Mr Fitzsimons threatened a bus driver and robbed him of £20 in change. A year later he was attacked by two men, but overcame and beat them. He was arrested and held on remand for six months for assault. Police also found ammunition in his flat from a previous tour of duty.

He told friends he was desperate to sort himself out. He ran 10 miles a day to keep fit and tried to stay off the drink and drugs. But a psychiatric assessment this year found his adjustment disorder was seriously aggravated and he was suffering from nightmares and flashbacks.

"He had problems with post-traumatic stress disorder and adjustment disorder but nothing had been done about it," his legal caseworker John Tibble said.

Steven Wood, 21, a friend, said, "You look at pictures of him when he was in the Army and he was always smiling but not in the later ones. He would suffer flashbacks when he would yell 'Cover fire! Para down!' He talked about losing friends. He said, 'I'm a soldier. I was made to be a soldier and that's all I know.' "

In January, friends said, three Asian men tackled him at a train station and he responded violently. He was arrested for assault and racially aggravated assault. Three months later when he caught a group of teenagers trying to damage his building he fired flares at them. In court, he pleaded guilty to a public order offence. He was due to appear in court on 24 August to face the assault charges.

But before he could get to court, he packed his bags and left for Iraq. He had been there just 36 hours before the fatal shootings happened.

Mr Wood said that when Mr Fitzsimons told him he was heading back to Iraq, he never believed that a company would take him on.

He added: "It is disgraceful. I didn't think he would be allowed back. He wasn't well. He needed help."

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