Fi­ancée says gov­ern­ment has let down Billy Irv­ing

The Oban Times - - News - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­times.co.uk

ON JULY 24 Con­nel man Billy Irv­ing, along with 34 other in­no­cent men who were work­ing aboard the anti-piracy ship Sea­man Guard Ohio, will have served two years of a fiveyear prison sen­tence in In­dia.

The men have con­sis­tently given ev­i­dence to a claim they were ‘ wrongly and un­justly im­pris­oned’.

For nearly four years now, the men and their fam­i­lies and friends have been fight­ing to bring the mat­ter to an end.

As the sec­ond an­niver­sary of his im­pris­on­ment nears, Yvonne MacHugh, Billy’s fi­ancée, slammed the gov­ern­ment and For­eign Of­fice for their in­ac­tiv­ity.

She said: ‘Billy and the men have been caught in a po­lit­i­cal web and a jus­tice sys­tem that has failed them and so many oth­ers. All of them have been let down by the com­pany they worked for – Ad­vanfort. Most im­por­tantly, they have been let down by the gov­ern­ment.

‘They have had their free­dom taken from them. Billy has missed out on the first two years of his beau­ti­ful son’s life, whom he adores and loves so much. His rights to be­ing a fa­ther and pro­tect­ing his fam­ily have been taken from him.

‘He has been stuck in limbo for four years not know­ing what his fu­ture holds or what will hap­pen to him and if he will ever get his free­dom back.

‘Those 35 men have had to sit in a In­dian prison thou­sands of miles from home and watch as mur­der­ers, rapists and thieves ar­rive and leave the prison be­fore them. Yet they still suf­fer daily and for what?

‘They have not hurt any­one. They are not a threat to any­one. They are good men. In­no­cent men. Men who were out work­ing, mak­ing a liv­ing for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

‘They were pro­tect­ing sea­far­ers to en­sure their lives were not at risk while they were at work. What good has come of lock­ing our men away?

‘I just want this night­mare to be over. I want to marry the man I love. I want my son to have a fa­ther. I want all 35 fam­i­lies to be re­united and I want jus­tice to pre­vail.

‘Two years into a five-year sen­tence and still there is no light at the end of a very dark tun­nel. More than 250 days since the ap­peal against their con­vic­tion and still we have no ver­dict.

‘This month I urge you to do one thing. Spread the word of this in­jus­tice. Tell your friends, fam­i­lies and strangers about the #chen­nai6. Sign our pe­ti­tion. Write to your lo­cal MPs, celebri­ties or In­dian politi­cians. Tell them we want our men home. Moth­ers and fa­thers want their sons home. Wives want their hus­bands home, chil­dren want to play with their dad­dies again. Help us free them.’

For its part, the UK gov­ern­ment claims to be do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to help the men. A spokesman for the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice said: ‘ We are in close con­tact with the men and their fam­i­lies, and we recog­nise what a dif­fi­cult time this is for them as they con­tinue to wait for a ver­dict on their ap­peal.

‘ We have taken sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion on this case. The Prime Min­is­ter raised it with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Modi at the G20 in Ham­burg last week, say­ing she hoped for news of a ver­dict in the case shortly. She had pre­vi­ously raised the case dur­ing her visit to In­dia in Novem­ber 2016.

‘The For­eign Sec­re­tary [ Boris John­son] raised it with his In­dian coun­ter­part in Jan­uary.

‘And to un­der­line the im­por­tance of the case, the Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer raised it when he met the In­dian Fi­nance Min­is­ter in April.

‘The case is also raised reg­u­larly at of­fi­cial level both in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu. On each oc­ca­sion, they stressed the im­por­tance of see­ing progress.

‘Our staff in In­dia have been pro­vid­ing sup­port to all six men since their ar­rest and will con­tinue to do all they can to en­sure the men’s wel­fare is pro­tected in prison.’

The six Bri­tish ex-forces per­son­nel were on anti-piracy du­ties with a com­bined 74 years of ser­vice, were ar­rested in Oc­to­ber 2013 af­ter they were ac­cused of en­ter­ing In­dian waters with­out per­mis­sion.

The In­dian High Court at first ac­cepted the pa­per­work was in or­der and dis­missed the case, but the men were un­able to leave In­dia while a lengthy ap­peal against the charges be­ing dropped was con­sid­ered.

This led to the men stand­ing trial at the mag­is­trates court, which then de­cided that the men had failed to prove that they were on anti-piracy du­ties.

Yvonne and Wil­liam were all smiles dur­ing their flight to In­dia in May to visit Billy in hos­pi­tal.

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