PM will raise case of Con­nel pris­oner Billy

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­

PRIME Min­is­ter Theresa May’s visit to In­dia this month could bring ‘fresh hope’ to fam­i­lies cam­paign­ing to free Con­nel man Billy Irv­ing, one of the ‘Chen­nai Six’ im­pris­oned in In­dia.

In 2013, the MV Sea­man Guard Ohio’s 35-strong crew, which was pro­tect­ing com­mer­cial ships from So­mali pi­rates off the African coast, were ar­rested for stray­ing into In­dian wa­ters with al­legedly un­li­censed weapons. Last Jan­uary a judge sen­tenced all to five years’ in jail, de­spite their pleas of in­no­cence.

In Oc­to­ber, an In­dian court was due to rule whether Billy and five fel­low Bri­tish ex-sol­diers would be re­leased on bail from Puzhal Prison in Chen­nai to ap­peal their con­vic­tions.

But Billy’s fiancée, Yvonne MacHugh, posted on her pe­ti­tion: ‘ Wed­nes­day Oc­to­ber 19 should have been the date we fi­nally got our men out of prison on bail. It should have been the date that the ap­peal would be­gin and we could look for­ward to get­ting our men home for good and when we could fi­nally start to think about re­build­ing our lives.

‘But that would all be too straight­for­ward and easy for a case that over the past three years has en­gulfed our lives. Through­out the case we have had the car­rot dan­gled to within our grasp, only to have some­one swoop in and take it back.

‘Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May travels to In­dia in Novem­ber and has vowed to raise our case dur­ing her visit. I truly hope she keeps her word, and be­lieve she will. Mrs May has the op­por­tu­nity to right a wrong and en­sure the In­dian gov­ern­ment un­der­stands fully that it is im­pris­on­ing in­no­cent men. I feel this visit is of huge im­por­tance and can bring home fresh hope for both the men and their fam­i­lies. This time, how­ever, we need more than words. Words have fallen on deaf ears time and time again. We need ac­tion and we need them home.’

UK min­is­ter for Asia Alok Sharma met MPs of the men’s fam­i­lies on Oc­to­ber 19.

Ar­gyll and Bute MP Bren­dan O’Hara said: ‘Last week I at­tended my sixth meet­ing at the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice to press them once again to do much, much more to se­cure Billy’s re­lease. I had hoped that with the new For­eign Of­fice Min­is­ter Alok Sharma in place there would be some­thing pos­i­tive to re­port. Un­for­tu­nately, and very frus­trat­ingly, there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing new and although the min­is­ter ap­peared keen to en­gage with the In­dian au­thor­i­ties, Billy and his ship­mates ap­pear no nearer a re­lease.

‘My frus­tra­tion is noth­ing com­pared to that of Billy and his fiancée Yvonne, who, time and again, have been led to be­lieve a break­through was im­mi­nent only to be cru­elly let down. With Christ­mas fast ap­proach­ing, I and Kirsten Oswald MP, will be speaking to Yvonne to see what more we can do to keep Billy’s story in the pub­lic con­scious­ness in or­der to keep the pres­sure on the UK gov­ern­ment to do ev­ery­thing they can to se­cure Billy’s free­dom.’

Yvonne thanked Mr O’Hara for ‘con­tin­u­ing to fight this never- end­ing bat­tle’. She said: ‘We want an­swers. There have been far too many ques­tions left unan­swered through­out the past three years. Why are they still there three years on? They’ve proven their in­no­cence. They’ve been ac­quit­ted and ev­ery per­son in­volved can see that our men are in­no­cent.’

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