Fiancée says government has let down Billy Irving
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.