Chennai Six Families Go To Downing Street
12 October 2017, 08:26 | Updated: 12 October 2017, 08:35
Desperate loved ones of six British ex-soldiers jailed in India - including one from Ashington - are taking their justice campaign to Number 10 today, marking four years since they were first arrested.
The six, who a British lawyer says are victims of a miscarriage of justice, have been held for 1,461 days in India and are currently in a "hell hole" prison in Chennai.
The group includes Nick Dunn, from Ashington.
His sister, Lisa, is part of the campaign which will be lobbying MPs on Downing Street later.
"It just gives him so much strength and a boost in order to keep fighting, knowing all of the support he's got around him."
"Knowing that we're doing this for him and the other men, it just reiterates to them that we're never going to give up on this until the day they come home."
They were first jailed on weapons charges while working as security guards on ships to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean.
Joanne Thomlinson, from Wigton, Cumbria, whose brother John Armstrong, 30, an ex-Paratroop Regiment soldier, is one of the six jailed, said it would "mean the absolute world" to get her brother home.
Mrs Thomlinson added: "It's now four years since our loved ones were wrongly incarcerated in India."
"These last four years have been sheer hell for everyone concerned, particularly for the men who were imprisoned while carrying out a vital, legitimate job in anti-piracy."
"We hope that today we can raise the profile of this miscarriage of justice even further, so that we can get the Government to take a more robust stance against this injustice."
Indian coastguards boarded their vessel, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, and arrested them for taking weapons into India's territorial waters in October 2013.
The charges were initially quashed when the men argued the weapons were lawfully held for anti-piracy purposes and their paperwork, issued by the UK Government, was in order.
But a lower court reinstated the prosecution and they were convicted in January last year and sentenced to five years jail.
Since then there has been a series of appeals as the families navigate the tortuous Indian legal system.
In the meantime the six are facing the looming prospect of another grim Christmas behind bars at Puzhal Prison, the vast penal complex in Chennai, home to 3,000 inmates including murderers and rapists.
The five other men are Nick Dunn, 31, of Ashington, Northumberland, a former member of 1 Para; Billy Irving, 37, of Oban, Scotland, a former member of 1 Para; Nicholas Simpson, 47, of Catterick, North Yorkshire, a former Sergeant Major in the 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment; Ray Tindall, 42, of Chester, who served with the 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment and the Welsh Guards; Paul Towers, 54, originally from Bootle, but living in Pocklington, East Yorkshire, a former member of 1 Para.
Their families will lobby MPs on Thursday at Parliament before handing in a petition with 405,000 signatures at 10 Downing Street demanding the Government do more to secure their release.
Yvonne MacHugh, from Glasgow, the fiance of Billy Irving, will help deliver the petition, accompanied by their son, William, two, who he is yet to spend a day at home with.
Theresa May has raised the matter on a visit to India and Britain's High Commissioner in India has visited the men in jail but the families say Foreign Office diplomacy is not working.
Family and friends have rallied round, the Mission To Seafarers charity has helped and legal advice has come, for free, from City lawyer Stephen Askins, a maritime law expert and ex-Royal Marine.