27 May 2005

Irish Echo

**Via News Hound

Spicer threatens to sue Echo, MP

By Ray O'Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Controversial former British army officer, Tim Spicer, is this week threatening to sue the Irish Echo and a member of the British parliament in the London High Court. The threat of libel action is contained in solicitors' letters sent to the Echo and to MP Sarah Teather.

The legal letters follow in the wake of a recent report in the Echo that pointed to U.S. criticism of the manner in which a Spicer-owned private security company has been operating in Iraq.

Spicer's company, Aegis Defense Services, was last year granted a $293 million contract by the Pentagon for security and reconstruction work in Iraq.

However, a strongly critical report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction recently cited Aegis for not complying with a number of requirements contained in the contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The contract has sparked controversy in Ireland, Britain and the U.S. because of Spicer's past record in Northern Ireland where he commanded the Scots Guards regiment during a tour of duty in the early 1990s.

Soldiers in that regiment shot and killed Belfast teenager Peter McBride in September of 1992. Spicer subsequently defended the actions of his men.

Two members of the regiment were tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to life. However, they were released after six years and reinstated in the unit.

In a letter to the Pentagon several months ago, the Derry-based Pat Finucane Center pressed the U.S. army to justify its decision to award the Iraq contract to Aegis Defense Services, of which Spicer is CEO.

The Pentagon has also been pressed on the issue by a group of U.S. senators, Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus, and Teather, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Commons.

It was a line in a recent Echo report that prompted legal letters sent to both Teather, the member of Parliament for the Brent East constituency in London, and this newspaper.

In its May 4-10 issue, the Echo, in a story headlined "Spicer speared in scathing U.S. report," reported Teather's view that "serious questions" still required answering in the McBride case.

However, it was the Echo's precise wording of this aspect of the Spicer/Aegis story that prompted the legal letters to the Echo and Teather.

The report stated: "Teather recently told the Echo that 'serious questions' were still in need of answers with regard to Spicer and his role in the death of Peter McBride."

The letter sent to the Echo alleged that this statement, made with regard to "Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer OBE," was "seriously defamatory of him."

The letter stated: "He had no role whatever in the death of Peter McBride. He was the commanding officer of the regiment in which two soldiers involved in Mr. McBride's death were then serving. Thereafter he stood by his men and, in due course, was vindicated in so doing."

The letter demanded an "immediate and full retraction" to be published in the Echo. Such a retraction would serve to "unequivocally" withdraw "the serious aspersions made against our client."

The letter additionally indicated that Spicer, through his legal representatives, would be seeking damages and costs in the event of there being no "satisfactory response" from the Echo and Teather.

The letter to the Echo warned that if there was no such response "proceedings will be instituted against you in the High Court in England and against Ms. Teather without further notice."

Both the Echo and Ms. Teather were taking separate legal advice regarding the matter this week.

Irish Echo Publisher Seán Finlay defended the Echo's coverage of the controversy surrounding Spicer, his record in Northern Ireland and with regard to the Iraq contract, which has been defended and confirmed by the U.S. Army Contracting Agency, in spite of multiple objections.

"We stand over our reporting of this story," Finlay said.

"It is entirely legitimate that the Irish Echo questions the basis for the contract awarded Aegis, as well as Spicer's broader military and alleged mercenary record," Finlay said.

The basis for the Pat Finucane Center's objection to the Iraq contract is rooted solely in the death of Peter McBride.

Spicer was not present at the scene of the shooting which took place September 4, 1992 in Belfast's Upper Meadow Street.

McBride was shot in the back moments after being searched by a sergeant attached to the same patrol as the soldiers who fired their weapons.

Despite his absence from the scene, Spicer's role as commander of the regiment was to draw him to the center of the furious controversy that followed the death of the teenager, a controversy that continues to this day.

In its stated objection to the Iraq contract, first relayed to the Pentagon last December, the PFC stated that the "allegation" against Spicer was not that he advocated for the release of the two soldiers from prison after the shooting of McBride.

"The issue is that he opposed their arrest and opposed their being charged with any offense whatsoever. In a sworn affidavit, and again in his autobiography, Spicer has sought to portray an entirely fictitious and untruthful version of the events preceding, during and following the actual murder," the center stated.

Spicer defended the actions of the two soldiers in a letter to the Times of London on the grounds that both believed they were involved in a terrorist incident and had accordingly acted in good faith, in accordance with the law, the rules of engagement, and their military training.

Separately, in his autobiography, which was extracted in the London Daily Mail, Spicer threw additional light on why he had so vigorously defended the actions of his men.

His view, he stated, was in accordance with the British army's "yellow card," a document that outlined the army's rules of engagement in Northern Ireland.

"My view," Spicer wrote, "is that if the soldier genuinely believes his life, or the lives of his comrades, are under threat from something such as a Mark XV, then even if it was not immediately obvious that one was being thrown, he could open fire."

"Mark XV" refers to a "coffee jar" bomb frequently used by the IRA during the time covered by Spicer's tour of duty in Northern Ireland.

No such weapon, or any weapon, was found on Peter McBride, either during the army search, or after he was shot.

Meanwhile, the criticism directed at Aegis by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction cites rests in part on rules concerning guns and their use.

The report stated that Aegis had been unable to provide correct documents to verify that its employees were qualified to use weapons.

And it warned that many Iraqi employees were not properly vetted by Aegis to ensure they were not a security threat.

"As a result there is no assurance that Aegis is providing the best possible safety and security for government and reconstruction contractor personnel and facilities," the report stated.

This story appeared in the issue of May 25-31, 2005

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