ArmorGroup sacks murder suspect

Security contractor with mental health problems faces death penalty in Iraq

By Jonathan Brown,Terri Judd
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:42

The parents of a British military contractor with a history of mental health problems who is facing the death penalty in Iraq after shooting dead two colleagues said last night that they feared their son was being "hung out to dry" by his former employers.

The security giant ArmorGroup was accused by supporters of "walking away" from Daniel Fitzsimons, who has been in custody since August accused of the premeditated murder of his ArmorGroup colleagues Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoar, and injuring Iraqi worker Arkhan Mahdi, following a drunken row.

In a statement the company said he had been dismissed for gross misconduct while another man, thought to have been present on the night of the shootings, was also sacked. It is understood he had been drinking and was caught in possession of alcohol.

Three other members of staff responsible for screening new recruits had resigned, the company said. Mr Fitzsimons, 29, was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks and flashbacks before going to Iraq but screening procedures had failed to pick this up. The incident happened 36 hours after returning to the country.

His condition was revealed in a psychiatric report just months before he was hired by the security firm, which also provides personnel to safeguard UK interests in Afghanistan as part of a £17m contract with the Foreign Office.

Mr Fitzsimons's step mother Liz told The Independent last night: "This is a shock to the family. We thought they had a duty of care to Daniel. We had a meeting with them last week and we are worried about him being hung out to dry and who will feed him in prison."

Before joining ArmorGroup, Mr Fitzsimons had been dismissed by two other security firms, Aegis and Olive, on one occasion for "extreme negligence". At the time that he was taken on by ArmorGroup he was on bail awaiting trial for assault in Manchester.

Details of his mental condition revealed in this newspaper prompted senior MPs to demand that companies recruiting private security personnel should be responsible by law for their employees' wellbeing.

Last night the Fitzsimons's local MP Jim Dobbin, who has raised the case with Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis, accused ArmorGroup of abandoning its responsibilities to their employee.

He said: "You must question their employment practices and for them to be walking away at a crucial time like this is absolutely irresponsible. They have been part of the process right from the word go."

The former member of the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment had served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. He left the Army in 2004 after punching an officer while suffering from combat stress. But after struggling to return to civilian life he signed up as a security guard and was sent back to Iraq where he was exposed to heavy violence.

ArmorGroup is part of the vast G4S group, which last month reported a half-year turnover up more than 10 per cent to £3.5bn. G4S is currently vying for a new £20m contract with the Foreign Office and the shootings have proved a serious embarrassment.

Questions over the conduct of private contractors in Iraq reached a head in 2007 when 17 civilians were killed by personnel from the US firm Blackwater, now branded Xe, which resulted in non-military security staff losing their immunity from prosecution.

In a statement ArmorGroup said it had dismissed Mr Fitzsimons on the grounds of "gross misconduct". "Although Mr Fitzsimons is no longer an employee of the company, we are doing what we can to ensure that his human rights are met whilst in Iraqi custody by providing him with food, water, clothing and toiletries," it added.

"We can confirm that in this particular case, there is evidence that Mr Fitzsimons falsified information during the recruitment process and that his screening was not completed in line with the company's procedures."

Since the tragedy ArmorGroup said it had employed "additional screening professionals" to check employment files to confirm that currently-serving recruits were suitable for deployment.

Mr Fitzsimons has been in daily contact with his British legal team but is understood to be too traumatised to speak to his parents. He was told that he had been sacked on Monday night.

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