Valen­tine’s love in an In­dian prison

The Oban Times - - Front Page -

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.

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