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Published: October 26, 2012

Broadcast this October, the BBC’s hour long documentary Britain’s Private War investigated the UK’s armed private security industry. Shown on BBC Two Scotland, the programme highlights how former servicemen are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan while on UK government contracts paid for by the taxpayer with little public knowledge of their deaths.

Reporter Sam Poling talked to private security contractors in a sector in which multi-million pound contracts are put up for grabs and where it’s feared some companies put profits before the lives of those on the ground. The programme also examines the case of a Scottish former Royal Marine murdered in Iraq by a colleague who wasn’t properly vetted by the company he was employed by.

The programme was developed after Sam and BBC producer Liam McDougall worked alongside several private security contractors for documentaries in Iraq and Pakistan as well as criminal investigations in the UK. “It seemed strange to know that there was no official database for those contractors who had lost their lives, some on government contracts,” says Poling. “And there was no formal regulation of the industry which meant there was no mandatory vetting of those involved. Other programmes have been made about the industry but, for the first time, Britain’s Private War gives a voice to the contractors on the ground.”

The documentary features interviews with a range of people, including the families of contractors killed in Iraq, Sir William Pater, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, Bob Shepherd, former Private Security Contractor and author of The Circuit, Bill Freear, Managing Director of risk management specialist Pilgrims Group, and Dr Chris Kinsey, International Security Studies, King’s College London.

The documentary took six months in the making and also followed a group of recruits who were training to be PSCs, where programme makers followed them to Poland to watch them undergo the live firing training.

“The programme raises serious issues and it was important that we had a voice in the programme which was representative of the professional and honest side of the industry,” continues Poling. “During conversations with many contractors, one company name was mentioned on more than one occasion; Pilgrims Group. The fact it had a 100% safety record was important and having spoken with many in the industry, it seemed clear that Pilgrims’ Managing Director Bill Freear was highly respected and with a reputation for professionalism. What was even more telling was when the team contacted the APPF in Kabul, one of the companies recommended as being amongst the best was Pilgrims.”

The team interviewed Freear about his experiences both as a contractor and as the managing director of Pilgrims, a company which operates world-wide protecting businesses and their interests, including across the world’s danger zones. He spoke of his frustration with companies who continue to attract the big-money contracts despite cutting corners and says it can be difficult to stay principled in the industry. He says he will never compromise the professionalism and safety ethos of his company to secure a contract.

“Business is about delivering a service that delights your customer at a price they accept as reasonable. When the risk is loss of life, there should be no short cuts,” asserts Freear. “Financial pressures can drive businesses to make the wrong choices on price v service. If budgets must be lowered, finding smarter ways to operate - not selecting a cheaper supplier, is the prudent choice. It is our ability to recommend and explain the right solution to our clients that perhaps sets us apart and has produced the track record and reputation we have.”

“Pilgrims had also been due to accompany our team in Afghanistan, however, due to time constraints this wasn’t possible,” explains Poling. “Bill Freear’s interview was used to illustrate that there are very professional companies operating in the industry.”

The programme was broadcast on BBC Two Scotland on 1st October, repeated on the 4th October at 23.50, with viewers outside of Scotland able to watch the programme on BBC i-Player:

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