Chen­nai Six freed af­ter four years in In­dian jail

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Kevin Rawl­in­son

Six Bri­tish men ac­quit­ted of weapons charges this week af­ter spend­ing four years in an In­dian jail have been re­leased, a rel­a­tive has said, rais­ing hopes they will be home for Christ­mas.

Ac­cord­ing to a post on the Face­book page ded­i­cated to the cam­paign for the re­lease of the so-called Chen­nai Six, the men were taken from a prison in the town on the south­east­ern coast of In­dia by Bri­tish con­sulate officials on Tues­day.

Yvonne McHugh, the part­ner of one of the men, Billy Irv­ing, said he and the other men were at the Bri­tish em­bassy with con­sular staff fol­low­ing their re­lease.

“They will just go to a ho­tel in Chen­nai and will be able to sleep in a bed and have a proper shower for the first time in about two years,” she said. “Billy called straight away, he couldn’t quite be­lieve it had hap­pened.

“He’s just over the moon and didn’t think they would be re­leased. He took ev­ery­thing that was said with a pinch of salt and didn’t be­lieve it. We are hop­ing they could be home in two weeks. If it’s less than that it will be a mir­a­cle.”

The BBC re­ported that Bri­tish officials were dis­cussing the next steps with the In­dian au­thor­i­ties and it is be­lieved the men will have to spend a lit­tle more time there be­fore be­ing al­lowed to re­turn to the UK.

The for­mer Bri­tish ser­vice­men were work­ing as se­cu­rity guards on a ship deemed to be at risk from pi­rates in the In­dian Ocean when they were de­tained in 2013.

They were ac­cused of car­ry­ing un­li­censed weapons, though they in­sisted they had been granted per­mits by the UK’s Depart­ment for Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Skills. They were among 35 men de­tained and, though their con­vic­tions were ini­tially quashed, an In­dian court later re­in­stated them.

Speak­ing on the BBC’s Vic­to­ria Der­byshire pro­gramme on Tues­day, Joanne Tom­lin­son, whose brother John Arm­strong was one of the six de­tained men, said: “He called me a cou­ple of hours ago from the em­bassy. It was a very quick con­ver­sa­tion and he spoke to my mum and dad as well.

“We were talk­ing about where they are go­ing to be stay­ing and how he gets his be­long­ings back, which are be­ing held by his friend in In­dia. I’m hop­ing once he gets a proper meal into him we will be able to have a proper con­ver­sa­tion.”

The In­dian ap­peal court de­cided this week to ac­quit the men four years into the five-year sen­tences they were given. The group in­cludes Nick Dunn from Northum­ber­land, Irv­ing from Ar­gyll, and Ray Tin­dall from Cheshire. Also jailed were Paul Tow­ers, from east York­shire, Arm­strong, from Cum­bria, and Ni­cholas Simp­son from North York­shire.

The For­eign Of­fice could not im­me­di­ately con­firm the re­port the men had been re­leased.

John Arm­strong (left) ges­tures next to Ni­cholas Simp­son as they leave prison in Chen­nai on Tues­day. Pho­to­graph: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images

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