Two former child soldiers have threatened legal action against the private security company Aegis Defence Services over psychological harm they say they suffered when the company recruited them as adults to work as mercenaries in Iraq.
The men were recruited as child soldiers in Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war, which ended in 2002, their solicitor Rebekah Read of Leigh Day has told the reporter. Years later, as adults, they were hired to work as security guards for Aegis in Iraq, she said.
Aegis, which is chaired by Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames, won contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to provide security to US military bases during and after the Iraq war. The company was taken over last year by the Canadian security company GardaWorld.
The men have sent a letter before action to Aegis saying their experiences in Iraq compounded the psychological harm they had already suffered in childhood. This is the first step in launching a civil claim for damages.
“They are quite haunted young men who were children under the age of 13 when they were fighting,” Read told, adding that their exposure to more violence during their time working as security guards in Iraq had further traumatised them.
She added, “We thought they reflected a good example of the injustices that probably most of the men who were former child soldiers in Iraq have suffered from.”
The two men allege that the company failed to monitor their mental health, provide counselling or take other steps that might have mitigated this.
Aegis is chaired by Tory MP Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill and himself a former soldier. The firm won millions of pounds’ worth of contracts to guard US bases during the Iraq conflict.
Aegis was bought out by security firm GardaWorld in 2015. Former Aegis CEO-turned-GardaWorld manager Graham Binns told the paper it would be inappropriate to comment on a current case.
In April 2016 a former Aegis boss, ex-British Army Brigadier James Ellery, told the Guardian that the decision to recruit in Sierra Leone had been driven by the profit motive.
“You probably would have a better force if you recruited entirely from the Midlands of England,” Ellery said.
“But it can’t be afforded. So you go from the Midlands of England to Nepalese etc etc, Asians, and then at some point you say I’m afraid all we can afford now is Africans.”
In a statement, Binns told the paper, “We worked very closely with our audited, vetted and authorised agents to recruit, vet and screen our professionals. Our agents were authorised [as was the employment of individuals] by the relevant national government of the countries from which we recruited.
“Aegis takes issues pertinent to our industry, such as post-traumatic stress very seriously, and has worked closely with experts in the field to develop and implement procedures for the management of trauma risk.”