Family of Sunderland ex-marine demand answers after he’s shot dead in Iraq

Phil Harris from Red House who was shot and killed in Iraq in August.
Phil Harris from Red House who was shot and killed in Iraq in August.
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THE shattered family of a former marine shot dead in Iraq today spoke of their desperate search for answers as to how he was killed.

Sunderland man Phillip Harris, 37, died after mistakenly walking into the wrong villa in the city of Erbil in August.

The dad-of-two, from Red House, was working in private security in the Middle East, as he had done since leaving the marines in 2004.

Today, as a Kurdish man remains on police bail in relation to the shooting, Phil’s heartbroken mum, Ellen Miller, 59, speaking from her Norton Road home, said: “I just want justice for my son.”

The family have not ruled out going to Iraq, if they are needed by the judiciary there to give evidence.

Phillip’s sister Mandy Smillie, 39, said: “The coroner’s office in Sunderland has advised that we hire a Kurdish lawyer, so that is something we are getting information on.

“But at the minute we know very little about everything that happened.

“We’ve been told Phillip died instantly, but because of the time difference, we don’t know whether it was August 20 or August 21.

“There was a lot of terrorist activity around where he was working, but it doesn’t look like it was anything to do with that.

“We just can’t grieve properly because of all of the obstacles that have been in our way.” Described as “fearless” and “not frightened of dying”, the Harris family spoke of Phillip as a hard-working and determined soldier who signed up immediately after leaving Red House Comprehensive, going on to represent the Marine Corp and the Navy as a boxer.

Another of his sisters, Deborah Knox, 41, said: “He was one of the youngest to ever sign up for the marines because it was all he ever wanted to do.”

After tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan among others, he left the Forces in 2004 and the next year went into security work.

“He looked after princes, princesses and sheikhs and he loved it,” said Mandy. When Phillip came home, he usually enjoyed a blow-out for a couple of weeks, but then he was always wanting to go back to work.

“He wasn’t one to sit around not doing anything.”

Deborah said: “When he was home, he would be out with all of his mates in the pub, but he never bragged or even talked about some of the things he’d seen, even though he’d lost friends in fighting and we knew it had affected him.”

Phillip had told family of his wish to carry out voluntary work with former soldiers when he was due to return to Wearside later this month - something he will now never get the chance to do.

Hundreds of people gathered for his funeral last month at St Andrew’s Church, in Roker, where former comrades carried his coffin into the service.

His body was then buried in Mere Knolls Cemetery.

A wake then took place at Hepworth and Grandage Social Club, close to where Phillip grew up.

The family now say they are waiting to hear what progress is being made with the investigation.

“We want justice for him and we’ll fight for it because he was our world – no matter how long it takes.” said Ellen.

Phillip leaves behind his ex-wife Sandra, 44, who he married in 2001 and got divorced from in 2005, and children Bobi-Jo, 12, and Leon, 11.

He enjoyed a family holiday in Florida in America, with the trio earlier this summer before travelling to Iraq for work.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that the organisation is continuing to provide consular assistance to Phillip’s family at this difficult time.