Valentine’s love in an Indian prison
YVONNE MACHUGH, partner of imprisoned Billy Irving of Connel, said on social media that she had the best Valentine’s Day. Ms MacHugh said: ‘Prison might not have been everyone’s first choice but it was perfect none the less.’
YVONNE MACHUGH began a six-day trip to India on Friday to see her fiancé Billy Irving in a Chennai jail, as he and five other British ex-servicemen continue to await their appeal, writes Louise Glen.
Four years ago Billy, Nick Dunn, John Armstrong, Ray Tindall, Paul Towers and Nicholas Simpson were working as armed guards aboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, protecting ships against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.
Indian authorities intercepted the vessel in October 2013, accusing the crew of straying into India’s territorial waters with unlicensed arms and ammunition. Last January they were sentenced to five years’ hard labour for alleged firearms offences, despite their protests of innocence.
In November, the men and their families were again left in ‘limbo’ after an Indian appeal judge deferred his verdict without naming a date.
‘His life and freedom have been taken from him for no good reason,’ explained the campaign Facebook page Bring Billy Back. ‘He has been imprisoned, bailed, freed as a innocent man, wrapped up in a long, complex and ridiculous appeal against his innocence, to now be back in that horrific prison awaiting his fate from the courts.’
Today (Thursday February 16) is the 1,226th day Billy has spent in India. Before her visit, The
Oban Times asked Billy’s fiancée Yvonne for an update, but she replied: ‘I have no idea. We are still waiting for a verdict that we should have got on Friday.
‘I am desperate to see him. I last saw and spoke to him in June.’
The couple correspond by letter, she said, most recently two weeks ago. ‘ He is incredible,’ Yvonne said: ‘Just keeping his spirits up. He is really looking forward to seeing me. He hoped he might be out when I got there.
‘He had almost 1,000 Christmas cards, to know he is still in everyone’s thoughts.’
Yvonne shared Billy’s thank you letter on Facebook, which read: ‘Truly amazing and what a boost to our morale. All the cards certainly made it feel like Christmas for us and put a huge smile on our faces. Thank you so much for your kind words and your support throughout the past 3+ years.’
Yvonne added: ‘He has written a pipe tune about Argyll. He has sent it to Angus MacPhail [of Skippinish]. All the words are about Argyll and how much he wants to get back. It’s called A Land That Is My Home.’
Billy and Yvonne’s son, William, who turns two in the next fortnight, is also ‘incredible’ she said, but ‘a wee menace’ too. ‘He is keeping me going. Billy gets a DVD night on a Thursday. I have made a home movie of William, so Billy can see what a character he is. I will only be there for six days. I do not want to leave William longer, and I only get four visits.’
In India, Yvonne also met officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. ‘I want to know what the Foreign Office will do differently this time,’ she said. ‘I want to make sure they move quickly if the appeal succeeds and, if not, ask what they are going to do to right a miscarriage of justice.’
Of herself, she said: ‘I am good, just staying strong for Billy and William. If I crumble, they have got nothing.’
To read Yvonne’s latest updates on Billy’s plight, visit www. change.org/ p/ british-foreign- secretar y-free- the- 6british-veterans- from- indianjail/u/19395710
Meanwhile, Robert Semple is running the London Marathon and cycling the Kintyre Ultra mountain bike race to raise £2,000 ‘to help Billy Irving’s family secure his release and return his life to normality’, he said. ‘Please help me help Billy. The events total 99 miles – surely it’s got to be worth 10p a mile?’ To donate, visit Robert Semple’s www.justgiving.com webpage.
Billyand Yvonne with their ‘wee menace’ William.