Danny Fitzsimons jailed for Iraq security guard murders

Danny Fitzsimons Fitzsimons is the first Westerner to be convicted in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion

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A British security guard has been sentenced to 20 years in jail after being convicted by an Iraqi court of murdering two colleagues.

Danny Fitzsimons, 30, from Rochdale, admitted killing Paul McGuigan, from Peebles, Scotland, and Australian Darren Hoare in August 2009.

He was also convicted of attempting to kill an Iraqi guard.

Fitzsimons is the first Westerner to be convicted in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

A 2009 US-Iraqi security agreement lifted immunity from prosecution for foreigners.

Green Zone

The former paratrooper, who feared being hanged, said he had been suffering from post-traumatic stress at the time of the killings.

Fitzsimons claimed he was acting in self-defence after a fight broke out, asking the judges to consider a plea agreement which would convict him on lesser manslaughter charges.

Fitzsimons, Mr McGuigan and Mr Hoare had all been working for British security firm ArmorGroup, based in the Iraqi capital's fortified Green Zone, at the time of the shooting.

As Fitzsimons was led away to jail by Iraqi guards, he said he was happy with the sentence, but when asked whether he thought the trial was fair he replied "no", AP reported.

The judge, who cannot be named under Iraqi law, said Fitzsimons' mental condition had been taken into consideration when deciding on the sentence, AP said.

"Danny Fitzsimons, the court has found established evidence that you killed the two slain men and attempted to kill the third," the judge said.

"So the court issues its sentence according to the Iraqi criminal code and sentences you to 20 years in prison."

Analysis

The verdict had been postponed twice before because the judges wanted further assessments of Danny Fitzsimons' mental state from Baghdad's Al Rashad hospital.

But the latest psychiatric report delivered to the court stated Mr Fitzsimons was fully responsible for his actions on the night he shot Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare.

This was something of a test for Iraq's reformed judiciary - the first westerner to be tried since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

It was also a sensitive case. The more than 100,000 private security guards working in Iraq were immune from prosecution until 2009.

They have been responsible for the deaths of a number of Iraqi civilians. Iraqis observing the trial said it was important that a foreigner who had committed such a crime was made to face justice, even though no Iraqis lost their lives.

Given there are more than 1,000 prisoners on death row in Iraq, Danny Fitzsimons may consider himself lucky to have received only a life sentence.

Fitzsimons' Iraqi lawyer Tariq Harb said after the hearing: "This is a very good sentence. I saved him from the gallows."

Mr Harb said Fitzsimons would appeal within a 30-day deadline.

He added that transferring Fitzsimons to a British jail could be possible since the "relations between the two countries are strong now and diplomacy can bear remarkable influence", AP reported.

The former soldier spoke on Monday of his fears over possibly being sent to Baghdad's Rusafa prison.

"Where I am detained is an administrative decision, and it can be influenced," he said.

"What my lawyers and what everybody is working towards is to ensure that I don't end up in one of the most notorious jails in the world, Rusafa, which is where normally people go who have been convicted of a major crime."

He said he thought it would be "sheer carnage" if he were to be sent there.

"It would be a case of kill or be killed I think in a place like that, I know it would," he said.

Fitzsimons joined the Royal Fusiliers at the age of 16 and was sent on a tour of duty to Kosovo.

He started working as a private security contractor after leaving the Army.

After his sentencing, his stepmother, Liz Fitzsimons, said: "Our hearts go out to the families of Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare, but we are greatly relieved that Danny has not been sentenced to death.

Elsie-mai, daughter of Paul McGuigan and Nicci Prestage Elsie-mai was born after her father Paul McGuigan was killed

"We now beseech the Iraqi authorities and the British Government to show proper regard for Danny's fragile mental state and ensure his welfare and safety when he is transferred to a prison outside the Green Zone.

She said that Fitzsimons' mental condition had deteriorated since leaving the Army.

"He's poorly and his mood swings were massive while he was in Iraq, which shows how bad his condition is," she said.

Fitzsimons' father, Eric, called for all young people who join the Army to be vetted to determine their psychological suitability.

Mr McGuigan's fiancee, Nicci Prestage, 37, said: "I have found some solace in the fact that Fitzsimons has been convicted of murder and not manslaughter by self-defence.

"There was no evidence to support a fight between Paul, Darren and Fitzsimons and the judge has recognised that.

"Today, I am releasing a photograph of my daughter Elsie-mai, born after her father was murdered, to remind everyone that she is the true victim of Fitzsimons' actions."

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