Distraught Yvonne appeals for help to bring Billy home
THE PARTNER of jailed Connel man Billy Irving is asking for anyone who can help her to come forward as she has ‘run out of ideas of what to do’.
Speaking to The Oban Times late on Tuesday evening, Yvonne MacHugh, 27, said she was still in shock following the news of her partner’s five-year sentence with hard labour in India.
She had believed Mr Irving would be home within the month after taking Foreign Office and legal advice.
Ms MacHugh, who is the mother of Billy’s 11-month- old son William, said: ‘I am so shocked. Everyone told us it would be okay, that the lawyers would sort it out, that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would help, that David Cameron would intervene. For years we have believed that. We have believed that no- one in the world would find innocent men guilty.
‘But they have. It seems there is no- one in the world that knows what to do.
‘I cannot tell you how supportive everyone has been. Every single text, or Facebook message or phone call has helped me. They have given me the courage to keep going on.
‘I miss living in Oban and working in Boots. No- one will believe how much I want that life back.
‘ We are living in an unprecedented situation. Billy is innocent. The other men are innocent. Why then are they in prison in India? Anyone with any advice or help, or even ideas about what we can do now needs to contact me – or any of the men’s partners and families to help us. We are lost right now.’
The men were first arrested in 2013 after their vessel, owned by an American company offering armed protection services to vessels sailing through an area known as ‘pirates’ alley’ between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, was blown off course.
For two years they were living in India with no money and no passports, unable to return home.
This week, evidence and paperwork from ex-paramilitary Billy and 34 of his colleagues failed to convince the India Tuticorin District Court of their innocence, and the judge ruled the proper paperwork for the US- owned anti-piracy ship the MV Seaman Guard Ohio had not been filed and therefore firearms charges against the majority of staff aboard the ship proved them guilty.
The owners of the ship, who reside between Washington, DC and the Philippines, were unavailable for comment, but it is understood they have spoken with family members to say they have no money to pay wages or to help with lawyers to free the men. The company is still trading and working in the same waters.
Ms MacHugh explained that 35-year- old Billy had made good friends in India who were now like family to him. She said: ‘One of Billy’s closest friends, Prem, has already been to see him in prison. He said to me, we are going to appeal this and get Billy out on bail. He has asked me not to come out to India until that happens.’
Prem told Ms MacHugh that prison was ‘not like it was before’. This time Billy is locked up be- hind bars with no visits allowed until paperwork is processed.
Campaigners are now calling for Prime Minister David Cameron to step in to have the sentence quashed.
Ms MacHugh said: ‘I just hope Billy gets home before William is five and he has missed everything.’
Speaking after the sentencing in India, his British colleagues said they were ‘shocked and disgusted at the absurd justice system in India’.
In BBC news footage, the men are seen flanked by more than 50 police officers. Mr Irving appears looking distressed, talking to his colleagues before he steps aboard the prison transport. The ‘harsh’ sentence has been condemned by MP Brendan O’Hara, who swiftly called a meeting with the Foreign Office to garner support for a campaign to free the father- of- one.
Mr O’Hara said: ‘I met with the Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire MP to discuss this terrible situation and to see what further action the UK government plans to take in light of this verdict and sentence. I put on record my deep disappointment at this news, as many of us expected Billy and his shipmates would be found not guilty and released, particularly as the case was thrown out of court at an earlier hearing.
‘I also expressed my shock at the length of sentence; the maximum possible term of five years’ ‘rigorous imprisonment’.
‘I understand the men will make an immediate application for bail and that they will also be appealing this verdict.’
David Hammond, of Human Rights at Sea, said: ‘At the time of writing, this appears to be a travesty of justice for the ordinary crew members who we understand were not aware of instructions being passed down from the employer, and who were otherwise simply doing their job. Human Rights at Sea will be co- ordinating with other non governmental organisations, civil society and UK Government departments to assure support is provided to the families involved, as necessary.’
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: ‘Our staff in India and the UK have been in close contact with all six men since their arrest to provide support to them and their families, including attending court.
‘Ministers have also raised this case at the highest levels, pressing for delays to be resolved. We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved. We will continue to provide consular assistance. However, we cannot interfere in another country’s judicial process.’
Yvonne MacHugh with partner Billy and their son William.