'Bang bang': UK mercenary charged with murdering colleagues gives evidence in Iraq

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Danny Fitzsimons, 30, gave evidence today to the court in Karkh, Baghdad trying him for murdering a fellow Brit and an Australian in August 2009. The security contractor said his ArmorGroup collegues had tried to kill him in the city's Green Zone, challenged the fairness of his trial and offered a plea bargain.

Fitzsimons used his pistol to kill Darren Hoare, 37, from Queensland, Australia and Paul McGuigan, 37, from Peebles, Borders, Scotland. The first Westerner tried in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, he testified that the trio were drinking whisky and began fighting after he punched McGuigan's face. He claimed McGuigan had him at gunpoint with an M4 rifle while Hoare pushed him on the ground after the pair entered his room.

"I was seconds away from my death so I pulled my pistol," Fitzsimons told the three-judge panel. "I shouted twice to put down the weapon. He didn't respond to my commands, my requests, so I made a decision. I shot him [McGuigan] twice in the chest." Acting out the events, he added "Bang, bang in his chest."

Next, according to Fitzsimons, he fired a third shot, this time hitting McGuigan in the face. His widow has described the three shots as an "execution". In further testimony today Fitzsimons told the judges Hoare then grabbed the pistol and tried to force it "to my throat to kill me... and while we were wrestling I fired two shots in the chest. I made the decision and pulled the trigger."

He then fled for the British Embassy, but was stopped by an Iraqi guard who ordered the blood-soaked man to stop at gunpoint. Fitzsimons pulled his own gun and shot the guard in the thigh, for which he faces an attempted murder charge.

Iraqi law requires the entry of a plea at the end of a trial, and Fitzsimons entered not guilty pleas. He also offered the judges a plea bargain - he would plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, which, unlike murder, does not carry the death penalty. The verdict has been delayed until February 20 while the judges seek documentation clarifying the accused's psychiatric state and consider if this should impact their decision as to guilt or innocence.

Fitzsimons was previously diagnosed by a medical committee with post traumatic stress disorder and made multiple requests to tell the judges about this. These were refused, the judges saying they were sufficiently aware of this already. Fitzsimons retorted that he believes this breaches his right to a fair trial: "This is not fair. I don't believe it is a fair trial."

The right to a fair trial is enshrined in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states "[e]veryone is entitled... to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of... any criminal charge against him." The Constitution of Iraq states in Article 19 "[t]he accused is innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial," and "[e]very person shall have the right to be treated with justice in judicial... proceedings."