In the wake of the Olympic Games vetting scandal, private security company G4S may have hoped that its period on the public rack had come to an end. But G4S’s vetting, it appears, is fraught with failure abroad just as it is in East London – only with far deadlier consequences.
Tonight on BBC Scotland, reporter Samantha Poling investigates the the deaths of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan and the lax security standards of the mutil-billion pound firms that send young men to war zones and arm them with deadly weapons.
In the summer of 2009, former British paratrooper turned private security contractor Daniel Fitzsimons shot dead two colleagues in Baghdad’s highly-securitised Green Zone. In a vodka-fuelled squabble and only 36 hours after arriving in the sandy nation, Fitzsimons killed Paul McGuigan, from Peebles in Scotland, and Australian Darren Hoare.
The three men had come to Iraq to work for the British private security company ArmorGroup Iraq, which G4S now owns.
While the media widely reported on the deaths at the time and on Fitzsimon’s subsequent trial before the Supreme Court of Iraq, BBC Scotland tonight reveals a shocking new fact: a whistleblower had sent G4S numerous emails only days before Fitzsimons arrived in Iraq warning the company that the lives of fellow contractors would be put at risk if he were given a weapon.
‘I am alarmed that he [Fitzsimons] will shortly be allowed to handle a weapon and be exposed to members of the public,’ the whistleblower wrote, who signed off as ‘a concerned member of the public and father.’
‘I am speaking out because I feel that people should not be put at risk.’
Fitzsimons had a criminal record, including firearm and assault convictions. The former British paratrooper was also suffering post-traumatic disorder from the gruesome sights he had witnessed during previous work in war zones such as Kosovo. Despite this background, G4S employed Fitzsimons and sent him to Iraq.
The mother of slain British contractor, Paul McGuigan, said, ‘[Fitzsimons] fired the bullets. But the gun was put in his hand by G4S ArmorGroup. They put the gun in that man’s hand.’
‘I want G4S to be charged with corporate manslaughter and be held accountable for what they did.’
Responding to the BBC Scotland investigation, G4S acknowledged that Fitzsimon’s ‘screening was not completed in line with the company’s procedures.’ G4S claims to have since improved.
The investigation shines a light into the murky world of private security. BBC Scotland spoke with security contactors who claim to have been forced to work on dangerous tasks with the wrong equipment. Numerous incidents have not been reported for the sake of G4S’s reputation, one of them alleged.
Bob Shepherd, a security contractor, told Poling, ‘We know when a soldier dies it’s all over the newspapers, it’s on the TV. But we never know when security contractors die.’
In response to the news that a whistleblower had repeatedly warned G4S about hiring Fitzsimons, the company told BBC Scotland that it was unable to find the email trail. It appears that a company selling security management software that allows businesses to monitor staff in the farthest reaches of the world is unable to carry out a simple email search; ‘I can’t track down the relevant individual so I am afraid we can not comment further on when we received the emails,’ G4S said.
G4S, one of the major players in the constantly growing yet constantly scandal-ridden private security sector, had a 2011 turnover of £7.5bn.
The International Code of Conduct for Private Service Providers is currently aiming to improve standards in the sector, which is dominated by UK-based companies. Out of the 511 companies to have signed up to the Code, 177 have headquarters in the UK — more than three times the number based in the United States of America.
Britannia may no longer rule the waves, but it does rule the world of private security.
BBC Scotland’s investigation, Britain’s Private War, airs on Monday October 1 at 21:00.
The editor of the Bureau worked with Sam Poling on the Scottish Bafta winning film Security Wars.
This story was originally published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.