He killed two men at point-blank range in Iraq. Now his ex-company boss admits: over half the private security men his company hired should not have been there.14 August 2019
The former chief executive of G4S David Taylor Smith has admitted the world’s biggest private security firm should never have sent Danny Fitzsimsons to Iraq. He said 304 out of 527 employees had failed to meet basic vetting standards and out of those nearly half had not been checked via the criminal records bureau.
This has called into question the future of the British-founded international private security company.
Father-of-two Paul McGuigan, 37, was shot dead by former paratrooper Danny Fitzsimons in Baghdad.
Taylor Smith, who resigned in the wake another scandal, the firm’s Olympic Games fiasco, said that an audit in the wake of Mr McGuigan’s death found numerous failings in the screening process.
A review of recruitment files also revealed that 44 per cent of those recruited had not been checked via the criminal records bureau.
Taylor Smith said the staff at the time thought that Fitzsimons’ case was anything other than isolated.
McGuigan, from Peebles, Tweeddale, in Scotland, was gunned down along with Australian Darren Hoare, also 37, in Baghdad’s highly-secured Green Zone in August 2009.
Fitzsimons is currently serving a 20-year sentence in an Iraqi prison after being convicted of murder in 2011.
He was hired by G4S for protection duties despite having a criminal record, and was also on remand charged with assault and a firearms offence.
A long-delayed inquest was told how Fitzsimons had faked a medical certificate to hide the fact he had been diagnosed by doctors as suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder.
He had also been compulsorily discharged from the army for unsatisfactory military conduct involving the use of drugs.
Fitzsimons, from Rochdale in Greater Manchester, England, later claimed he was suffering from mental illness at the time of the killing.
Fitzsimons and McGuigan, a former Royal marine, had been joking and fighting with each other over their military rivalry in the room of colleague Kevin Milson on the evening before the killings.
Prestage revealed that Mr McGuigan had been overjoyed to discover she was pregnant and had attended an ultrasound scan on the day he flew back out to Iraq.
The hearing was told he was on hunger strike in his Baghdad prison and would like to be brought back to the UK to see out his sentence. However, the inquest heard there were no immediate plans to do so.
McGuigan’s mother Corinne Boyds-Russell said she had been told by Fitzsimons’ bosses, G4S, that the men had been drinking and there had been a fight when she met them a week after the murders.
She added: “Fitzsimons should never have been allowed to go to Iraq in the situation he was in. Paul was a lovely boy. He was a fantastic father – he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
By Paul Martin
No one knows exactly what happened in the small hours of a balmy Baghdad night on 9 August 2009, but the basic facts seem clear.
Former paratrooper Danny Fitzsimons had been in Baghdad for less than two days to start a new job as a private contractor with G4S. Fitzsimons was reeking of alcohol and carrying a semi-automatic rifle with a Glock pistol strapped to his body armour when he became involved in what was described as a ‘whisky-fuelled brawl’ in the Iraqi capital’s supposedly secure ‘Green Zone’.
Shortly afterwards, two colleagues, former British Royal Marine Paul McGuigan and an experienced Australian former soldier and defence contractor Darren Hoare, lay dead and an Iraqi security guard was badly injured.
The diminutive Fitzsimons was convicted on two counts of murder and one of attempted murder – the first westerner to be put on trial in Iraq since the conflict began. He escaped the death penalty, but was sentenced to 20 years in Baghdad’s notorious jails, leaving two ruined families, his own distraught relatives and a slew of urgent questions about the private security industry.
Questions also hung over the sequence of events and the personnel involved. Was Fitzsimons really acting in self-defence, as he has repeatedly claimed – something vehemently denied by the dead men’s relatives? Was he suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – himself a victim of the brutalising conflict – as he still maintains?
And why, when G4S had been repeatedly warned that he was mentally unstable, unsuitable for the job, with a record of having twice been sacked, was he employed by G4S and sent back to Iraq?
This, of course, was the security firm which guarded the London Olympics in 2014, the most significant public event to be held in this country for decades, and which so notably botched the basic recruitment process – to the extent that the army were called in to lend a hand.
I was in Baghdad and had met the British priest who had occasionally been allowed access to Fitzsimons. The Iraqi Ministery of Justice agreed to a one-and-ojnly request: allow a journalist to meet the double killer inside one of their most secret and secure prisons. In a army-protected convoy we snaked around a prime target of Islamist and Baathist insurgents, the international airport, and in to an American-constructed compound, once an American military police prison until the US exited Iraq in 2010.
Shaven-headed, and fidgeting, Fitzsimons looks around at the incongruous pink walls and freshly watered pot plants of the governor’s office at Karkh Prison. He ordinarily spends his days in a yellow concrete cell block with a slit above the door to let in the light. But today he is attempting to put words to the horror of the night he destroyed two lives and nearly put paid to a third.
He is aware, he says, that he has ‘robbed fathers of sons, children of fathers, wives and girlfriends of their men.’
But he describes the grisly events inside his room on the Baghdad compound in a strangely detached way that could have been paraphrased from a cheap thriller. ‘Death hung in the air like a fog. On the night it went bad,’ he recalls. ‘It was a naughty fifteen minutes.’
This is his first interview since his conviction and he is, he says, haunted by the deaths, thinking of them every minute of the day. But he ‘corrects’ me when I use the term ‘murder’.
‘I killed them, yes, but I did not murder them,’ Fitzsimons says. ‘Self-defence is a complete defence, and I will reveal all if I get a retrial or, if not, at a genuine investigation. I was framed.
‘I mean, who runs the security company? Ex-British intelligence, ex-ministers, ministers, current ministers. One man, his lawyer and his family can only do so much.’
He believes somehow the security company pinned the blame on him because it wanted to avoid responsibility for this and other violent incidents. He and his lawyer were confronted, he said, by ‘the might of not just the security company but all the people that back and support that establishment”.
The journey from the heavily fortified city centre to Karkh prison, near Baghdad Airport, had begun with a hair-raising drive at breakneck speed, accompanied by arms-toting gunmen swaying about on SUVs careering in front of us and behind us. Since the Americans arrived here, this route has been known as the Drive of Death, as snipers, taking cover in the thick undergrowth alongside, often open fire or set off remotely controlled roadside bombs.
We could not go in through the airport entrance (‘too dangerous today’, a walkie-talkie message crackles), so we had taken a 30-mile detour to the prison formerly known as Camp Cropper before the Americans handed it over to the Iraq authorities. This is where, at various times, the Americans held the fallen dictator Saddam Hussein and most of his top ministers and generals.
At his trial Fitzsimons was expected to get the death penalty, which is mandatory in Iraq for premeditated murder. Instead he was sentenced to life with a minimum of twenty years. He told the court he feared he would be murdered in prison, where he would be locked up along with captured Islamic extremist fighters from Al Qaeda who would be itching to get their hands on an ex-Para.
Iraq’s government rejected an appeal by Reprieve, a UK-based charity campaigning to save people from death row worldwide, that Fitzsimons should serve his sentence in a British jail, otherwise he could be killed. There is no extradition treaty between Iraq and Britain.
Clearly Fitzsimons has survived, but says he is now ‘an empty vessel’ and a ‘walking corpse’, locked up in ‘the bottom of the cesspit of the world’.
This doesn’t seem quite true. It is obvious from our visit that he is in one of Iraq’s better jails and we can see apparently healthy prisoners walking around the courtyard in their yellow jumpsuits.
During our videotaped interview at the former Camp Cropper, Fitzsimons made a surprise offer: that, once he is able, he wants to speak directly to the parents and loved ones of the two men he had killed. ‘One day I’ll see you face to face – we’ll sit and talk,’ he said, looking straight into my videocamera.
But, self-justifying or not, Fitzsimons says he is on anti-depressant medicine and he is still haunted by the killings: ‘It’s there every second of every minute of every day. It’s sort of become more frequent recently.’
Surprisingly, Fitzsimons admitted during our interview that he had not been in a fit state to work in a battle zone.
‘[I am] a guy who has a colourful history… discharged from the Parachute Regiment for having psychiatric problems,’ he told me. He claimed that officials from the G4S-owned security company, reading his damaged psychological track record, had decided to make him the fall-guy for the killings. He wants an independent inquiry or even a re-trial.
There is one indisputable fact, though: G4S subsidiary ArmourCorp sent Fitzsimons to Iraq and gave him access to weapons and booze without even checking his criminal record or verifying a supposed doctor’s certificate that was forged.
And, according to security experts and a psychologist, there were a plethora of clear warning signs in his past conduct in the army and as a private security contractor that should have stopped any respectable company from exposing him again to the pressures of a conflict zone.
The world’s largest private security company, G4S, still discredited by the Olympics debacle, came under fire at the inquest from representatives of the dead men, and from the killer’s own lawyer. It heard how G4S should not have hired a man with a criminal record, who was on bail, and about whose dangerous behaviour the company had apparently been warned more than once.
The evidence and the documents – many of which are now in the possession of the MediaZones.net – raise serious questions about the lack of legal safeguards and political control over with men who have become indispensable to British operations abroad. They reveal that massively profitable private companies may be exposing their employees, and those they protect, to unnecessary danger in their pursuit of profit in zones of conflict.
The private security industry has cost Britain around half a billion pounds in government contracts over nine years, yet there is no formal legal regulation of their work.
A voluntary International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (ICOC) was put in place in 2014 at a conference in Switzerland – but there are no criminal penalties for flouting it.
‘There are people with guns operating in dangerous and tenuous conditions around the globe,’ says a senior insider. ‘It’s still up in the air how this agreement can be enforced. Verification is necessary but it’s not in place. It’s extremely difficult to implement.’ And pre-checks on the mental health of contractors is hugely underdeveloped.’
The body supervising this code admits it has no powers to enforce the Code – its CEO says he is just hoping that governments will only hire those companies who agree to use best practice
Companies known to have a high standard and who have excellent track records of safety for their employees and for those they guard, and local civilians, say they are being squeezed by more cavalier companies willing to cut corners and content to expose their own contracted men, and their clients, to greater risks.
Bob Shepherd, a security expert who has worked for many years in the field, and himself a former Para, told MediaZones.net that security companies will use the new code as a convenient ‘facade’ to continue their abuses.
Shepherd also claims many deaths caused by clashes between private security personnel in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan have been covered up, attributed to deaths caused in clashes with insurgents.
‘Deaths like that are bad for business,’ he told an investigative television programme. ‘If the British people knew the total numbers of people who’ve died on their behalf they would be shocked.’ He added: ‘Death reports are often ‘sanitised’, to ensure the company looks good.’
In Peebles, Scotland, Paul McGuigan’s mother Corinne Boyd-Russell comes every Wednesday with a watering-can to tend the flowers growing around her son’s gravestone in a cemetery alongside an ancient church.
Half her son Paul’s ashes are buried beneath a heart-shaped stone with one painted white flower and ‘Love You Daddy’ carved in it. There’s also a teddy bear marked ‘Special Daddy’ – a tribute on behalf of a daughter he never saw.
On his last day in Manchester before flying off to Iraq, Paul had glimpsed his unborn baby girl – through a video scan of Nicci in a Manchester hospital. ‘He was so thrilled; he immediately gave her the name Elsie-Mai,’ recalls Corinne.
‘He was so sure it was a girl he had even bought her a pink set of clothes. … a pink Nike tracksuit with pink trainers.’
The other half of Paul’s ashes are buried near where he and Nicci would have lived. But the Nicci, who garnered a large payout from G4S, has fallen out with Paul’s own mother in a bitter dispute.
‘I have paid a very heavy price. Not only is my son dead, but I am not even allowed to see Paul’s daughter,’ Corinne says tearfully.
Meanwhile, back in a Baghdad prison, Fitzsimons’s mental state remains fragile. But it was also parlous, to say the least, well before his last of five tours as a security contractor.
One report among the papers seen by MediaZones.net shows a psychiatrist had described him as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder months before he was sent to Iraq in 2009.
‘Fitzsimons fired the shots that killed my son,’ says Corinne in Scotland. ‘But the ammunition and the weapons were put in his hands by G4S or ArmourCorp, and they are the real killers.’
The scandalous behaviour of private security firms in Iraq was also exposed later in 2016. Four Blackwater guards were handed prison sentences ranging from 30 years to life over the killing of 14 Iraqis in 2007.Read the full story ›
It is no surprise Danny Fitzsimons ended up in Dire Straits
Strange things happen inside Baghdad’s Green Zone – a heavily fortified and powerfully patrolled area that makes attacks by militants less likely to succeed.
By Paul Martin, Editor-in-Chief of ConflictZones. For ITV News.
Exactly four years ago there was a double killing there. A British and an Australian security officer, killed by one of their own men, an English former paratrooper called Danny Fitzsimons. It had all stemmed from a whisky-stoked set of brawls that led to Fitzsimons being confronted in his room.
In 2011, I somehow got tangled up in the aftermath of that event while filming a documentary. Iraq‘s most feared secret armed unit, the 56th Brigade, ordered me to be locked up because they said I did not have the right permit to enter the zone.
During four days and nights in a police cell, I was intrigued by a cardboard sign wedged behind some pipes. It was a slightly mis-spelled quote from a Dire Straits song called ‘Brothers in Arms’. I later discovered it was Danny Fitzsimons who had put it up there.
He had spent two years in that cell charged with murder. Earlier in 2011, he had left “my” cell after finally being sentenced to 20 years in an Iraqi jail.
The cops who held Fitzsimons say he was strange but nice. Danny’s defence team and parents say he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
They say he was facing a charge in the UK for pulling a gun on some youths and had been messed up by years of service in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He had witnessed terrible scenes, like discovering the butchered body of a child he had befriended. He had apparently lied about his record in order to get employed for this, his fourth contract with an Iraq-based security firm.
I managed to liberate Danny’s Dire Straits sign from the police cell and, amazingly, just weeks ago, I was able to tell Danny this story face to face. Thanks to the Ministry of Justice I was being allowed to meet him during a visit by a brave British priest, Andrew White, whom I am filming for another documentary. It took us hours to travel there due to endless security, road blocks and potential terrorist attacks.
It was impossible to assess Danny’s prison conditions as we were only allowed to meet him in the Governor’s office, which had been beautifully decorated, the Governor said, by the inmates. The prison had been set up by the Americans as Camp Cropper, and still looked neat and well-run.
He remembered every word he had written on that piece of cardboard:
Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms
He said the lyrics symbolised how some of his “brothers-in-arms” had deserted him while others unexpectedly had given him support.
Thanks to Canon White, Danny has found solace in religion. But he finds prison life among purely Arabic-speaking inmates, some of whom are very hostile to British ex-soldiers, to be soul-destroying. He shows considerable remorse for the killings, but believes he was framed for what he thinks was self defence in a struggle, not a cold-blooded double murder. My interview with him is very revealing – a controversial scoop.
On one thing, though, everyone seems to agree: With a history of trauma suffered in conflict, and on bail for an assault in the UK, Fitzsimons should never have been allowed to work for private security contractors in Iraq, let alone pick up weapons and have unlimited access to alcohol.
It is not surprising he ended up in Dire Straits.
- You can watch the interview with Danny Fitzsimons on the ITV News at 10pm
The campaigning organisation Reprieve continues to claim that Fitzsimons should be brought back to England to serve out the rest of his sentence, and that the security company should have rejected his redeployment.
It says on its website:
Danny has serious mental health problems as a result of his years of service with the British army, and his work as a private security contractor in Iraq.
Danny had always wanted to join the army. He joined the Royal Fusiliers at the first opportunity, aged just 16, and was sent on his first tour shortly after his 18th birthday. But his experiences of active duty were so traumatic that his mental health deteriorated and he was eventually diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
During his first tour to Kosovo his unit began to uncover mass graves and Danny discovered the dismembered body of a child who had delivered the troops bread and whom he had befriended.
Danny then witnessed the death of a close friend when he left that army to work as a private security contractor.
“The truck in front of him in his convoy was hit by an IED. The plastic doors of the truck sealed shut in the heat, and one of his team was shut inside. His friend screamed for Danny to get him out, but Danny could not break the window of the truck as it was bulletproof glass. He was forced to watch his friend burn inside the truck unable to help.”
(Copyright Paul Martin / ConflictZones.tv)