Scot free after four years in legal limbo in India

James Toner has been acquitted after being held in India for nearly four years on drugs charges. Picture: Complimentary
James Toner has been acquitted after being held in India for nearly four years on drugs charges. Picture: Complimentary
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A SCOT who has been held in India for nearly four years on drugs charges has been allowed to come home.

Former social worker James Toner spent 11 months in jail and a further three years on bail after being accused of having 2.5kg of hashish in May 2009.

The 47-year-old Glaswegian has not been allowed to leave the country because of his bail conditions, but on Thursday he was acquitted of the charges and will be allowed to return to Scotland.

Mr Toner, who is originally from Castlemilk, was arrested while travelling in a taxi in Goa, where he had been living.

Since being released on bail, he has had to rely on charity and support from friends. He said: “I have been here a month for every year of my life. I thought I would be ecstatic, but I don’t feel up and I don’t feel down. I just feel completely numb. I know it is great news that I have been acquitted but I am not feeling it yet. It has just been such a very long time coming.”

A judge quietly announced Mr Toner’s acquittal in chambers. The Scot had fully expected to be acquitted.

The main hearing of his long and drawn-out trial took place earlier this month. Prosecutors – currently also working on cases against police officers involved in the arrest – had little to say, according to Mr Toner.

Following the hearing on 1 April, Mr Toner said: “The prosecution don’t appear to have any case. My advocate pretty much tore their case to shreds. I can’t actually believe that’s all over except the verdict.

“I’m not sure how I’m feeling at the moment but in just over two weeks the judge will be giving his verdict.”

Goa’s police have been in the headlines in India in recent years amid allegations of drug-related corruption. Last year the state’s law-enforcement head said he was ashamed of officers caught “implicating” an Israeli on drug-dealing charges.

Mr Toner has always said he was told charges against him would be dropped if he paid a bribe of £6,500. His defence was simply that prosecutors could not make a case against him.

Mr Toner said: “In India, just as in Scotland, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. Our defence was they had not proven the case.”

The Scot has still to get his passport back. He remains subject to bail conditions – and these may be extended for either three months or six months in order to give prosecutors time to appeal, should they wish to do so.

However, Mr Toner’s lawyers do not expect them to do this.

He said: “I feel quite down. I really want to go home. People think I am stuck in some kind of paradise. It might have palm trees but it is not a paradise.”

Last year, Mr Toner’s MP, Tom Harris, raised the case with Prime Minister David Cameron. The Foreign Office made inquiries, but still the case dragged on.

Mr Harris said yesterday: “I am delighted for Mr Toner but I am not very impressed with India’s justice system. Mr Toner has spent a long, long time in limbo, and even raising the matter at Prime Minister’s Questions doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on the pace of the case.”

Mr Toner’s mother and teenage son are in Glasgow.