Rally in support of Scottish ex-soldier detained in India

Campaigners fighting for the release of six British ex-soldiers jailed in India on weapons charges, including a Scot from Argyll, are to stage a rally in the North of England.

Billy Irving from Argyll is just one of the Brits who has been detained in India. Picture: Contributed
Billy Irving from Argyll is just one of the Brits who has been detained in India. Picture: Contributed

Supporters, including relatives of the six, are aiming to raise awareness of the men’s plight at the event in Carlisle today.

The demonstration has been timed to coincide with a meeting in the city between the families and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) minister Hugo Swire MP.

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The families are calling for action from the UK government to help them bring pressure to bear on the Indian authorities and support them to bring the men home.

The six men were on an anti-piracy mission, working as security guards on a US-owned ship, when they were arrested in October 2013 on illegal weapons charges.

They were working for maritime company AdvanFort providing anti-piracy protection when their ship - MV Seaman Guard Ohio, which had a crew of 35 - was detained and weapons were found.

In the following months the charges were dropped, but the Indian authorities appealed against the decision and the men were detained in India.

In January this year they were found guilty of the charges and sent to prison for five years. Their families hope a fresh appeal in their case will be heard next month.

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Billy Irving of Connel, Argyll, is one of the men currently detained.

Mr Irving’s partner Yvonne MacHugh said: “If you had asked me on this day last year how I felt I would have told you that things couldn’t get any worse. Sadly they have, and innocent men are now locked up for a crime they did not commit.

Ms MacHugh, from Glasgow, previously started a petition on Change.org - which attracted the support of hundreds of thousands of people - saying the men had been “wrongly arrested and imprisoned by Indian authorities while working to protect ships from pirate attacks”.

She has visited her partner in India and the couple have a young son, William.

Labour MP Ian Lavery has described the situation faced by his constituent Nick Dunn, of Ashington, Northumberland, and the other men as a “miscarriage of justice”.

Speaking ahead of the rally, Mr Dunn’s sister Lisa Dunn said: “The devastating impact this ordeal has had and is currently having on our whole family is indescribable and completely incomprehensible. This has consumed our lives for the last 31 months, and we never believed it could ever unfold in a result of a guilty verdict.

“The meeting we have with minister Swire and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is vitally important and gives us, the families, the opportunity to stand united and show that we will not accept this verdict.”

The other detained men are Ray Tindall from Chester; Paul Towers, from Yorkshire; John Armstrong, from Wigton, Cumbria and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire.

The Revd Canon Ken Peters, of The MissionTo Seafarers charity, who has been supporting the families, said: “This human tragedy drags on and the toll on the men and their families is devastating.”

Mr Swire, the Minister for Asia, said ahead of the meeting: “I recognise what an extremely difficult time this is for all those involved. I have previously met with the families in London and we are meeting again in Carlisle on Tuesday as part of our ongoing support to the men and their families.

“Our staff in India are in regular contact with the men and are working to make sure their welfare is protected in prison. The appeals process is ongoing and as we have previously stated, we cannot interfere with India’s independent legal system, but we will continue efforts to make sure this case is resolved swiftly.

Ministers and our High Commissioner to India will continue to raise this case at the highest levels.”