Thousands of UK soldiers returning from Britain's wars come back with psychological problems that land them in jail, but the army is doing nothing about it.
IT WAS when Danny Fitzsimons hid in a wheelie bin that his family began to suspect something was wrong. Danny, 34, had been drunk and abusive at a family event, circling the house and banging on the windows. “Every now and again, the bin lid came up a tiny bit and then went down again,” says his stepmother, Liz.
She looks at Fitzsimons’ father, Eric, who has since developed dementia. We are sitting in the living room of their smart bungalow just outside Rochdale; they are both retired, former PE teachers.
“Eric said, ‘Come on, Danny, I’ll take you home’ and he said no. So Eric waited till Danny set off, and thought he’d better make sure he got home. Eric didn’t get back till 3am. I said, ‘Where have you been?’ He said, ‘I’ve been following Danny. He’s been playing bloody soldiers all the way home.’ He was doubling back, hiding behind walls. We now know that this is hyper-vigilance, but we didn’t at the time.”
Fitzsimons had joined up at 16, excelled in training, saw active service in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and won a distinction as a sniper. In 2004, after eight years, he applied to have his contract extended, but was discharged. “They said he had anxiety disorder,” Liz says. What did the army do to treat it? “Nothing that I’m aware of.”
When he returned home, Fitzsimons was a different character. He had gone into the army full of hope (his mantra was the Farm song All Together Now) and came out full of hate.
Liz recalls a time when he was left with his younger cousins. “He said to the kids, ‘This is what you do to niggers: get them on the floor and stamp on their head.’” Where had that come from? “The army, I think. He wasn’t racist when he went in.”
Fitzsimons began to get in trouble with the law. He served nine months in prison for assault (his defence was that he thought he was being followed), was convicted for firing a flare gun over the heads of teenagers climbing on his roof, and was charged with a racist assault.
In May 2008, he was diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a court-appointed doctor. In June 2009, Dr Jameel Hussain wrote a psychiatric report, in which he said of Fitzsimons:
“He gave a clear description of nightmares, vivid dreams, visual flashbacks, and he can also smell burnt flesh and feel the smell of death… At times he would be afraid to sleep because of the nightmares he was having. He also described… an example of tensing up when he saw hazard warning lights on a vehicle. He explained that in Iraq, vehicles loaded with explosive devices only had their hazard warning lights on.”When Fitzsimons applied for a job in Iraq with the security firm Armour Group Security, owned by G4S, he didn’t tell his family. At the time, he was on bail and not allowed out of the UK. Somehow, none of this was enough to deter G4S from employing him, in August 2009.
He had been in Iraq for just 36 hours when he shot dead two colleagues, Scottish security guard Paul McGuigan and Australian Darren Hoare, after a night of heavy drinking. Fitzsimons claimed it was self-defence, but he was convicted of the two murders and sentenced to 20 years in jail, in Iraq. It emerged that G4S had not checked his records.
Liz is desperate to bring Danny home to a British prison. She shows us photographs of him as a giddy young boy, as a proud paratrooper, and letters in which he talks about how well he’s doing in training.
Then more disturbing letters, in which he talks about the horrific things he’s seen. Liz describes how they heard about what he did, and it’s as if she’s telling it for the first time.
“Danny’s friend, Scott, texted Eric and said, ‘I think Danny’s in trouble in Iraq.’ We didn’t even know he’d gone to bloody Iraq. Scott said he thought Danny had killed somebody. I rang Rochdale police and they said, ‘Ring the police in London’, and when the copper rang back, he said, ‘Look at the front page of the Washington Post’, and there it was.”
Liz blames a military that dismissed Fitzsimons with no follow-up, and a security company that failed to do basic checks. “I rang the army because I wanted to know what to do, and they never even answered me.”
Fitzsimons was haunted by a recurring image, Liz says. “He was only 18 or 19; he was out on a tour in Kosovo and this little boy, six or seven, would bring them bread and milk. They played football with him and would chat with him, and one day they found the little boy’s body in pieces in their water supply. Imagine how you cope with that? They knew it was their fault, because the boy was seen as a collaborator.”
Both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice agree: there are a worrying number of veterans within the criminal justice system. MoD statistics err on the conservative side, quoting 2,820 veterans in prison in 2009/2010, or around 3.5% of the prison population. In 2009, the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) put the figures higher: 8,500 veterans serving sentences in UK prisons, and a further 11,500 on probation or parole.
Two out of three ex-soldiers imprisoned in the UK have committed sexual, violent or drug-related crimes, according to the MoD. The research into the relationship between ex-soldiers’ PTSD and crime is inconclusive and often contradictory: a Howard League for Penal Reform inquiry in 2011 concluded that there was no link; a Napo report suggested that half of veterans in prison had depression or PTSD (compared with 23% of the male prison population).
“It suits the MoD to minimise the numbers in order to reduce the extent of liability,” says Tony Gauvain, a retired colonel, psychotherapist and chairman of the charity PTSD Resolution. “But given the numbers of people suffering symptoms now, and the latency of the condition likely to result in increasing numbers, there would seem to be a determination to avoid admitting there is a problem.”
The idea that PTSD can lead to violent crime is embarrassing for the MoD – and potentially costly. Those diagnosed with combat-related PTSD are entitled to a disablement pension, while victims of the crime could also potentially claim compensation.
Between 2005 and March 2014, 1,390 claims were awarded under the Armed Forces and Reserve Forces Compensation Scheme for mental disorders (including PTSD) – but this figure could well spiral over the next few years as the army withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan.
To put this into context, in America, 20% of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with PTSD; in 2011, 476,514 veterans were treated for it.
This is extracted from a longer article published by The Guardian: 'You don't ever get over it': meet the British soldiers living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
sourxe : Stop the War Coalition