THE family of the former Royal Marine from Innerleithen shot dead in Iraq by a fellow British security contractor has welcomed the murder conviction and 20-year sentence handed down by the trial judge at the start of this week.
Ex-paratrooper Danny Fitzsimons was given the 20-year-sentence on Monday for murdering Paul McGuigan, along with Australian, Darren Hoare.
Fitzsimons’s lawyer, Tariq Harb, was pleased with the sentence, pointing out his client could have faced the death penalty.
“This is a very good sentence. I saved him from the gallows,” Mr Harb told reporters.
Fitzsimons and his two dead colleagues had been working for a private security company, ArmourGroup, in August 2009. In court, Fitzsimons, 31, claimed he had been forced to shoot Mr McGuigan and Mr Hoare in self-defence after a fight broke out.
Mr McGuigan, 37, was shot three times. His fiancée, Nicci Prestage, who lives in the Manchester area, was so distraught by news of his killing that she gave birth five weeks early to their daughter, Elsie-Mai.
“I have found some solace in the fact that Fitzsimons has been convicted of murder and not manslaughter by self-defence,” said Ms Prestage in a statement.
“There was no evidence to support a fight between Paul, Darren and Fitzsimons and the judge has recognised that.
“I gave birth to Paul’s daughter without him by my side. A beautiful baby girl who will never see her daddy, or receive a cuddle from him. Two weeks after her birth, I had to take her to her daddy’s funeral.”
Also in the statement, Mr McGuigan’s mother, Corinne Boyd-Russell, speaking from her home in Innerleithen, welcomed the murder conviction, saying it proved there was no evidence Fitsimons had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as he had told the court.
The retired travel agent added: “The true victims in this are Paul, his family and his little girl, who will never see her daddy. It is very hard to take it all in at the moment, but at least the sentence is now out of the way and we can try to move on.”
Fitzsimons, 30, from Rochdale, admitted killing the two men and was also convicted of attempting to kill an Iraqi guard. But he claimed he had been suffering from post-traumatic stress at the time of the shootings and was acting in self-defence during a fight. He asked the judges to consider a plea agreement which would convict him on lesser manslaughter charges.
But the latest psychiatric report for the court said Fitzsimons was fully responsible for his actions on the night he killed his colleagues.
Fitzsimons is the first Westerner to be convicted in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Fitzsimons’s relatives have said they are concerned for his welfare, as he has threatened to take his own life rather than serve his sentence in Baghdad’s notorious Rusafa prison, and are pressing the Iraq authorities to let him serve his prison term in the UK.