Dis­traught Yvonne ap­peals for help to bring Billy home

The Oban Times - - Front Page - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­times.co.uk

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.

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