Bail bid launched to free Billy

The Oban Times - - Front Page - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­

BILLY IRV­ING could be al­lowed out of an In­dian jail to at­tend his son Wil­liam’s chris­ten­ing in a Chen­nai cathe­dral, when Wil­liam and Billy’s fi­ancée Yvonne MacHugh fly out next month.

Billy, from Con­nel, is one of six ex-Bri­tish sol­diers who were ar­rested and im­pris­oned in 2013 when their boat pro­tect­ing mer­chant sea­men, the MV Sea­man Guard Ohio, strayed into In­dian ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters car­ry­ing weapons with­out per­mis­sion.

All charges were dropped in 2014 but later re­in­stated. Af­ter a two-year bat­tle to re­turn home, on Jan­uary 11, 2016, a court in Tamil Nadu found the men guilty of bor­der and weapons vi­o­la­tions, and sen­tenced them to five years’ hard labour.

A bail pe­ti­tion should be sub­mit­ted to­mor­row (Fri­day) and, if suc­cess­ful, it would mean Billy would be freed un­til the end of his ap­peal hear­ing, which has been ad­journed un­til June 15.

‘I fly out on July 11 and I hope to get Wil­liam chris­tened,’ Yvonne told The Oban Times yes­ter­day. ‘It would be great if Billy was out on bail. It just gives you time as a fam­ily. It would mean a few days Billy could spend with his son, rather than looking through a prison cell. We can maybe go on a date.’

Last week, on May 31, Billy re­ceived a morale-boost­ing visit from Hugo Swire, For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter, lift­ing hopes that White­hall is mak­ing pos­i­tive steps to put pres­sure on the In­dian gov­ern­ment.

If bail is not granted, Mr Swire told Yvonne he would be ask­ing the In­dian gov­ern­ment to re­lease Billy for a few hours for Wil­liam’s chris­ten­ing at St Thomas Cathe­dral. He tweeted: ‘I again raised their cases with the gov­ern­ment in Tamil Nadu and Delhi.’

Speak­ing on the cam­paign web­site, Yvonne said: ‘De­spite the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween us and our men, I am more than cer­tain this has been a huge boost to the morale of our men who are lan­guish­ing in hor­rific con­di­tions in an In­dian prison.

‘Would a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial fly to an­other coun­try to visit men who are guilty of a crime? Of course not and this is the first time a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter has vis­ited a Bri­tish cit­i­zen in a for­eign prison.

‘The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment know th­ese men are in­no­cent and we want the world to know what a huge mis­car­riage of jus­tice this whole case has been.’

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