Heart­felt ap­peal

The Oban Times - - FRONT PAGE -

YVONNE MacHugh, the fi­ancée of Billy Irv­ing, writes an emo­tional ac­count of the suf­fer­ing she and the other fam­i­lies – as well as the men jailed in India – have en­dured.

BILLY IRV­ING’S tod­dler son Wil­liam and fi­ancée Yvonne MacHugh will be at 10 Down­ing Street to­day – the fourth an­niver­sary of his in­car­cer­a­tion in India – to hand over a mas­sive pe­ti­tion plead­ing for gov­ern­ment ac­tion to have him freed.

Ex­actly four years ago to­day, Oc­to­ber 12, 2013, In­dian au­thor­i­ties de­tained 35 se­cu­rity men, in­clud­ing Con­nel man Billy and five other Bri­tish ex-ser­vice­men, on board the anti-pi­rate patrol ves­sel Sea­man Guard Ohio.

In Jan­uary 2016 the ‘Chen­nai 6’ – Billy, John Arm­strong, Nick Dunn, Nick Simp­son, Paul Tow­ers and Ray Tin­dall – were con­victed of of­fences re­lat­ing to the im­por­ta­tion of their weapons into In­dian ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters when the ves­sel went to refuel.

The Chen­nai 6, the Ukrainian cap­tain and other Es­to­nian and In­dian guards and crew were sen­tenced to five years in an In­dian prison. The an­niver­sary of their fourth year in India will be spent in Chen­nai Cen­tral Prison wait­ing the re­sults of an ap­peal that was heard in Novem­ber 2016.

The men whose job was to pro­tect com­mer­cial ves­sels from pi­rates in the In­dian Ocean have now been held far longer than any hostage held off So­ma­lia.

Oc­to­ber 12 rep­re­sents 1,461 days since their original ar­rest, and will be marked with a pe­ti­tion signed by 405,000 peo­ple be­ing de­liv­ered to 10 Down­ing Street.

The pe­ti­tion will be de­liv­ered by fam­ily mem­bers of the Chen­nai 6, in­clud­ing Billy Irv­ing’s two-year-old son Wil­liam, and John Arm­strong’s five-year-old nephew Josh Arm­strong.

It will be highly emo­tional for all in­volved. Billy is yet to spend a day at home with his son, who was born while he was in India. His fi­ancée Yvonne MacHugh has taken their son to visit Billy in prison. He has only spent a num­ber of hours with the tod­dler.

John Arm­strong hasn’t seen his nephew in four years. Josh’s school class have writ­ten to the men in prison to as­sure them they will not be for­got­ten.

On the same day, a par­lia­men­tary lobby will take place, hosted by Ian Lav­ery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, the con­stituency of Nick Dunn. MPs from all the men’s con­stituen­cies will be in at­ten­dance, along­side the For­eign Of­fice and fam­ily mem­bers: Lisa Dunn, Mar­garet Dunn, Yvonne MacHugh, Jim Irv­ing, Mar­garet Irv­ing, Joanne Thom­lin­son and He­len Arm­strong.

But the cam­paign stated: ‘De­spite all this sup­port, it is not enough. Six of our veter­ans are lan­guish­ing in prison for do­ing their jobs. They should never have been charged. Armed guards ef­fec­tively stopped So­mali piracy and weapons are rou­tinely taken in and out of India. Why this case led to any charges be­ing made is not known. The weapons were law­ful and had been ex­ported from the UK in strict com­pli­ance of UK law.

‘No mat­ter how small a step for­ward it may be, it’s a step for­ward none the less. Per­haps the lobby and pe­ti­tion will en­able us to leap for­ward and bring the Chen­nai 6 home for Christ­mas.’

Mean­while, the cam­paign suf­fered an­other set­back last week when the pre­sid­ing judge stepped down, which means the case will have to be heard again.

The Chen­nai 6 Face­book page said: ‘To­day we re­ceived an up­date on our ap­peals process. We have waited nearly 11 months for the judge to fi­nally de­cide that the case is too com­pli­cated for him so he has with­drawn from it.

‘This means that it now needs to be reis­sued to an­other judge and a new ap­peal needs to be heard.

‘The only pos­i­tive we must try to draw from it is that at least he has stepped down rather than say­ing the con­vic­tion is to stand, so we can only con­tinue to hope and pray that the new judge who is al­lo­cated this case is of a higher cal­i­bre and ex­pe­ri­enced enough to fi­nally make a de­ci­sion and make the cor­rect de­ci­sion.’

Dear Mr Irv­ing,

First, I would like to ex­press my re­spect and grat­i­tude for the time you spent in our armed forces.

Sec­ondly, I would like to ex­press my dis­gust at the way the lead­er­ship of the UK has al­lowed you and your friends to lan­guish in woe­ful con­di­tions in a Chen­nai prison on what by any yard­stick can­not be con­sid­ered any­thing other than trumped-up charges. It is im­moral and in­hu­man.

Loy­alty works both ways. You (and the other Brits in­car­cer­ated with you) have put your­selves in harm’s way for our coun­try. You should now be able to ex­pect the best ef­forts of Boris John­son and Theresa May to se­cure your re­lease. (I un­der­stand that Brenda O’Hara MP had been do­ing his best to per­suade them.)

I have writ­ten to all three of them ask­ing them to re­dou­ble their ef­forts and if any other res­i­dents of Argyll are read­ing this, then I would urge them to do so too at: MP, House of Com­mons, Lon­don, SW1A 0AA. (Do it now, folks! Not after EastEnders is fin­ished, or after you’ve put the cat out, or after you’ve fin­ished your tea – now. It doesn’t take long.)

Here’s hop­ing that com­mon sense and hu­man­ity will pre­vail over what the In­dian au­thor­i­ties are pre­sum­ably call­ing ‘jus­tice’. Best wishes,

Steve Mor­ley.

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