Chennai Six freed after four years in Indian jail
Six British men acquitted of weapons charges this week after spending four years in an Indian jail have been released, a relative has said, raising hopes they will be home for Christmas.
According to a post on the Facebook page dedicated to the campaign for the release of the so-called Chennai Six, the men were taken from a prison in the town on the southeastern coast of India by British consulate officials on Tuesday.
Yvonne McHugh, the partner of one of the men, Billy Irving, said he and the other men were at the British embassy with consular staff following their release.
“They will just go to a hotel in Chennai and will be able to sleep in a bed and have a proper shower for the first time in about two years,” she said. “Billy called straight away, he couldn’t quite believe it had happened.
“He’s just over the moon and didn’t think they would be released. He took everything that was said with a pinch of salt and didn’t believe it. We are hoping they could be home in two weeks. If it’s less than that it will be a miracle.”
The BBC reported that British officials were discussing the next steps with the Indian authorities and it is believed the men will have to spend a little more time there before being allowed to return to the UK.
The former British servicemen were working as security guards on a ship deemed to be at risk from pirates in the Indian Ocean when they were detained in 2013.
They were accused of carrying unlicensed weapons, though they insisted they had been granted permits by the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. They were among 35 men detained and, though their convictions were initially quashed, an Indian court later reinstated them.
Speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Tuesday, Joanne Tomlinson, whose brother John Armstrong was one of the six detained men, said: “He called me a couple of hours ago from the embassy. It was a very quick conversation and he spoke to my mum and dad as well.
“We were talking about where they are going to be staying and how he gets his belongings back, which are being held by his friend in India. I’m hoping once he gets a proper meal into him we will be able to have a proper conversation.”
The Indian appeal court decided this week to acquit the men four years into the five-year sentences they were given. The group includes Nick Dunn from Northumberland, Irving from Argyll, and Ray Tindall from Cheshire. Also jailed were Paul Towers, from east Yorkshire, Armstrong, from Cumbria, and Nicholas Simpson from North Yorkshire.
The Foreign Office could not immediately confirm the report the men had been released.
John Armstrong (left) gestures next to Nicholas Simpson as they leave prison in Chennai on Tuesday. Photograph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images