- 28 февраля 2011, 18:23
Danny Fitzsimons avoids death sentence but family say his PTSD meant he should never had been employed in a war zone
A former British soldier who claims to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder has been jailed for 20 years in Iraq for the murder of two fellow security contractors during a whisky-fuelled argument, becoming the first westerner convicted in the country since the 2003 invasion.
Danny Fitzsimons, 31, a former paratrooper from Middleton, Manchester, shot dead Briton Paul McGuigan and Australian Darren Hoare, colleagues at the UK security firm ArmorGroup, now part of G4S, and injured an Iraqi security guard 36 hours after arriving in Iraq in 2009.
His family said they were "euphoric" that Fitzsimons had escaped the death penalty, but said he was suffering from severe PTSD and should never had been employed in a war zone.
Fitzsimons's stepmother and father, Liz and Eric Fitzsimons, from Rochdale, said the Ministry of Defence had "let him down and continue to let down an awful lot of soldiers who come out with PTSD and aren't offered any help".
They called for legislation to help vet those hired by private security firms.
Fitzsimons, who joined the army at 16 and was discharged eight years later, admitted shooting the men but claimed it was in self-defence – an argument rejected by the court.
McGuigan, 37, a former Royal Marine originally from Peebles, Scottish Borders, was shot twice in the chest and through the mouth. Weeks after his death his fiancee, Nicci Prestage, from Tameside, Greater Manchester, gave birth prematurely to his daughter, Elsie-Mai.
Hoare, also 37, a father of three from Brisbane, was shot through the temple at close range.
Fitzsimons said as he was led from the courtroom that he was happy with the sentence. But asked whether he thought his trial had been fair, he said: "No."
His Iraqi lawyer, Tariq Harb, said: "This is a very good sentence. I saved him from the gallows."
He told Reuters: "A year in prison in Iraq is nine months and this means that 20 years in prison will, in fact, be 15 years."
He planned to appeal for a reduced sentence. But the prosecution may also be able to appeal for a stricter sentence or even the death penalty.
Fitzsimons's family said he faced a "horrendous" situation if transferred to Rusafa prison in Baghdad, where, as a former British soldier, he would be targeted by extremists including members of al-Qaida.
"He told us: 'I will be a dead man if they put me in there.' We really are concerned that wherever he does end up he is safe," said his stepmother. The family want him transferred to the UK.