PM will raise case of Connel prisoner Billy
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 change.org 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.’