Verdict postponed for British ex-soldier Danny Fitzsimons as Iraqi court considers evidence of mental illness

February 20, 2011

The Supreme Court of Iraq this morning adjourned the case of Danny Fitzsimons until 28th February in order to re-assess evidence of the British ex-soldier’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Rochdale-born Danny is facing the death penalty for the murder of fellow security contractors Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare in Baghdad’s Green Zone in August 2009, and was expected to receive a verdict and sentence today.

The court’s decision is a welcome relief to Danny’s defence team, who had been warned that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may not be considered an illness under Iraqi law. Danny was suffering from severe PTSD at the time of the incident – a consequence of his experiences while serving in the British Army – and the illness is crucial to explaining his behaviour.

During a tour of Kosovo, Danny’s unit uncovered several mass graves, and Danny stumbled across the dismembered body of a child who had delivered bread to the troops and whom he had befriended. Upon his return to the UK he displayed debilitating symptoms of PTSD, a serious condition that causes flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance and aggression; stressful circumstances can cause sufferers to dissociate from reality and lose control over their impulses. Despite his manifest mental instability, Danny was hired as a security contractor by the private security firm ArmorGroup (now G4S) and posted to Iraq, where he had previously witnessed a close friend burn to death after an IED explosion. Within 36 hours of Danny’s arrival in Baghdad, the incident took place in which his two colleagues died.

Danny’s illness would be considered a powerful mitigating factor under English law, but there are fears that the Iraqi Judicial Psychiatric Council may not recognise PTSD as reducing a sufferer’s criminal responsibility. The court has so far relied exclusively on the Council’s report, which was never shown to Danny’s lawyer. Reprieve hopes the court is now considering pre-existing psychiatric reports from the UK, and the views of an independent psychiatric expert, in assessing Danny’s condition.

Although G4S was negligent in providing a disturbed young man with firearms and sending him into a warzone, the company has since attempted on several occasions to wash their hands of Danny. G4S have contributed just $75,000 towards Danny’s legal fees, although a proper defence would cost around $1.8 million.

Liz Fitzsimons, Danny’s step-mother, said:

“Today we are daring to hope that the court might recognise what we have long known – that Danny is a very ill young man who desperately needs psychiatric treatment and should never have been sent to a war zone. We are cautiously optimistic that if the court looks at Danny’s pre-existing condition they will see that this terrible incident was a consequence of his devastating illness, which destroyed the Danny we knew many years ago.”

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve said:

“It is clear that Danny should never have been in Iraq in the first place. If G4S had done the proper checks and risk assessments when he applied to work with them, they would have quickly seen that he was suffering from serious PTSD, a consequence of loyally serving his country. Instead they conducted minimal checks and sent him off to Iraq. Now Danny is fighting for his life, when he should be receiving psychiatric treatment.”

Requests for interviews with Liz Fitzsimons, Danny’s step-mother, should be directed to Reprieve. For more information please contact info@reprieve.org.uk

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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