With over 250 UK servicemen and women tragically dead on Afghan soil since 2001, generals, politicians and tabloid editors regularly weep crocodile tears for the 'fallen heroes' - but they say much less about the damage suffered by the survivors. Ex-soldier Danny Fitzsimons, 29 and from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, is on trial in Baghdad accused of the murder in August 2009 of two other security guards, Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare, in a drunken brawl. His trial was due to start in November 2009 but was postponed because of a bomb attack on the court. He has been held in what his solicitor describes as a 'dungeon' and faces death by hanging if convicted. His family are calling for his return to face trial in the UK where he can receive appropriate care and would not face the death penalty if convicted. They are supported in this by their Labour MP Jim Dobbin and prisoners' rights organisation Reprieve. Danny's solicitor John Tipple has seen at first hand how justice in Iraq is subject to bribery and intimidation and it is hard to see how Danny could obtain a fair trial in Baghdad.
Danny joined the Royal Fusiliers at 16, and was sent on his first tour shortly after his 18th birthday. On his first tour, to the former Yugoslavia, Danny experienced some extremely disturbing events - the discovery of mass graves, and finding the dismembered body of a young boy who had previously delivered bread to the troops. He left the army and like many ex-soldiers turned to work as a private security contractor in Iraq, where he witnessed further traumatic events, including the death of a close friend burned alive inside a truck hit by an IED. Danny was diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in January 2004, while still in the army. Assessments by consultant psychiatrists in May 2008 and June 2009 reported that the symptoms had worsened. In May 2008 he was told that PTSD was: "having an impact on his day to day life and he used drugs and alcohol to combat that and escape from those experiences." Despite this, in August 2009, Danny was hired by ArmorGroup and sent out to Iraq without undergoing a full medical assessment. Within 36 hours of his arrival, the incident took place in which two colleagues died and an Iraqi was injured. ArmorGroup is now part of global security company G4S. G4S has so far tried to wash its hands of Danny with a one-off payment of $75,000 towards his legal fees. But a capital trial and the situation in Iraq mean that a proper defence would cost up to $1.8 million.
Danny Fitzsimons has been treated appallingly by G4S. But there are also major questions for the Ministry of Defence in this case, and the many other cases where service personnel are diagnosed with PTSD. What support or counselling did Danny receive while in the army, or for his resettlement when he left the army at such an early stage in his career? What psychiatric support is available for serving soldiers to deal with PTSD? What counselling or other support is available for soldiers leaving the army to ensure they return to civilian life and are not re-cycled into the violent world of private security? The charity Combat Stress has seen a 66% increase in referrals since 2005 and is currently supporting 316 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffering from PTSD. It was recently revealed that a quarter of the homeless are ex-squaddies. 10% of the male prison population consists of ex-service personnel - hardly surprising given that the psychological trauma of war-time experiences, plus the culture of drinking and drug-taking when off-duty, bring many ex-squaddies into conflict with the law. Danny's trial opened on 20 January but was adjourned for psychiatric reports. It was to resume on 18 February but his family are still pressing for the government to arrange a 'prisoner transfer' to a UK jail.
G4S is the second largest private employer in the world, with over 500,000 employees, 40,000 of them in the Middle East. In 2008 G4S had a turnover of £5.943 billion and saw its profits rise by 22%. Its board of directors includes Sir Paul (now Lord) Condon, who was commissioner of the Metropolitan Police between 1993 and 2000. Since 2008 John Reid, formerly home and defence secretary, has acted as a consultant to G4S. G4S runs immigration reporting, detention and removal centres and executes repatriation of asylum seekers to their homeland, in some cases to renewed persecution and death. It provides bodyguards for staff in Iraq and Afghanistan. It operates prisons and secure training centres in the UK, provides police 'support' duties, rail security and is likely to be a contractor for the Department for Work and Pensions Flexible New Deal Phase 2. But what it does not do is provide justice & support for those who need it most.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.