Life term for DRC death row soldier

This Is Lancashire: Joshua French served in the Parachute Regiment Joshua French served in the Parachute Regiment

A British former soldier - already on death row - has been handed a life sentence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the murder of his cellmate and best friend, despite expert reports having concluded the death was a suicide, a legal charity has said.

Joshua French, who served in the Parachute Regiment, was charged with murder after Tjostolv Moland was found dead in the prison cell they shared on August 18 last year.

Both men were sentenced to death in 2009 after being found guilty of an unrelated offence of espionage and murder, although they maintained their innocence. They were convicted for a second time for the same offences in June 2010 following a military retrial branded a ''farce'' by campaigners.

Legal charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr French, said the former soldier has been suffering from "severe mental illness" throughout his trial.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve's death penalty team, said: "Life imprisonment in the DRC for someone with such severe mental ill health as Joshua is effectively a death sentence.

"He is acutely psychotic and should never have been put on trial - his best friend's death was proven to be suicide.

"The UK government must do everything they can to get him transferred to a hospital where he can receive the medical attention he so desperately needs."

The charity has written to Prime Minister David Cameron urging the British government to help Mr French, who is being held in Ndolo Military Prison, in the capital Kinshasa.

It is understood that discussions had been taking place to transfer Mr French to a prison in Norway but the fresh proceedings have thrown this into jeopardy.

Reprieve said a post-mortem examination conducted jointly by Congolese Police and the Norwegian police agency Kripos confirmed that Mr Moland had committed suicide.

Mr Moland's father has written to the Congolese authorities asking for the charges against Mr French to be dropped, but the request has not been answered.

Mr French and Mr Moland were convicted of murdering Abedi Kasongo, who had been hired to drive the two former soldiers after their motorbike broke down in April 2009. The 47-year-old driver was shot in the head 70 miles (113km) east of Kisangani.

French and Moland denied responsibility. They claimed that unknown gunmen ambushed them in the middle of a dense rainforest.

The original trial saw witnesses provide conflicting testimonies and lacked physical evidence, Reprieve has previously said.

It is also claimed that Mr French was beaten and subjected to a mock execution before being forced to sign a confession.

The prosecution told the courts that Mr Moland wrote a letter confessing he was a spy and was responsible for killing Mr Kasongo.

But the letter has never been given to his defence team.

At the retrial, both defendants were forced to stand for more than six hours in temperatures higher than 40C (104F), it was claimed.

Mr French, who spent his childhood in Margate, Kent, trained as a British paratrooper before serving in the Norwegian army, where he met Mr Moland.

Both men left the forces in 2007 and worked as security guards in a number of locations.

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