6 Former British soldiers who were arrested for supplying Terrorists with "Guns" will spend X'mas in Indian prison after their hopes of coming home were dashed



Six former British soldiers turned 'pirate hunters' are spending Christmas Day in a 'hellhole' Indian prison after their hopes of gaining freedom were dashed. 

The six ex-paratroopers were working as mercenaries for US maritime company AdvanFort to protect ships from Somali pirates when they were arrested after entering Indian waters in October 2013.

They were jailed for five years in January for 'importing guns for jihadists' – although the punishment was branded a 'miscarriage of justice' by their families and politicians in Britain.

The six – who have a combined 74 years of service - are Nick Dunn, from Ashington; Ray Tindall from Chester; Paul Towers, from Yorkshire; John Armstrong, from Wigton, Cumbria; Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll, and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire. 

Last month their appeal was heard in court but the languorous legal system in India has meant a ruling on their appeal is expected until the New Year.

If they fail to quash their convictions they face four more years behind bars at Puzhal prison, home to 3,000 inmates including murderers and rapists, in Chennai, formerly known as Madras. 

Armstrong's brother, Joanne Thomlinson, from Wigton, Cumbria, said: 'Christmas and birthdays, you would normally be with your family. These days are a bit harder for John and the others to get through. The whole thing is an absolute tragedy.

'It is incredible to think what impact this has had on so many lives. So many parents, children, brothers and sisters, wives - just completely lost while their loved one suffers in prison.'

Indian coastguards first boarded their vessel, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, and arrested them for bringing 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 sentenced to five years in jail.

Their families say the 'Chennai Six' are being held in 'horrendous' conditions, sleeping on concrete floors, in sweltering heat with inadequate water, prison meals of 'curried slop and rice' and poor sanitation, with toilets being a hole in the floor.

The smell 'just hits you' on entering the prison, say relatives who have visited to take supplies including teabags, sweets and toilet paper. None of the men are allowed telephone calls home.

Ann Towers, whose husband Paul spent 12 years with the Parachute Regiment and 20 as a prison officer, said: 'I'm really quite bitter about the fact that we are in this situation, three years after it started, and this is their fourth Christmas in that country.'

Mrs Towers, from York, said: 'That prison is a hellhole. We have led lives with integrity. We have never done anything wrong. We have paid taxes, we have worked since leaving school, we have served. This is just abhorrent.

'It's such a time of family Christmas. And then not to be together, because we are a close family, it's horrendous.'

Mrs Towers said the fact Theresa May raised the matter on a recent visit to India and Britain's High Commissioner in India has visited the men in jail 'speaks volumes' and shows they are not guilty men convicted abroad who simply want to come home.

She said: 'I truly believe they know these men are innocent. We have just got to hope and pray what's gone on behind closed doors is going to do something, have some effect.

'Until we get this decision through, we are in limbo, this horrendous torture.'

When Yvonne MacHugh visited her fiance Billy Irving recently she took their two-year-old son William, said: 'It was only the second time he had seen him, the first time he was only three months old, so this time he was running about saying 'Daddy!'. That's what made him so positive about all this, he's just desperate to get home in time for Christmas and see William.

'That's the one place they want to be. It's Christmas. It's not a time to be in prison.'

Miss MacHugh, from Glasgow, said she believed Foreign Office diplomacy to get the men home was not working.

'They speak a good game and say they are doing all they can. For the last three years, they have managed to do nothing,' she said. 

Their US employer, AdvanFort, 'walked away' from the situation and have not paid salaries or helped with legal and travel fees, the families say. 

The firm was not available for comment.

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.

Mr Askins said: 'It's a miscarriage of justice. They should not have been charged.'

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the matter had been raised regularly at the highest levels.

She said: 'We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved and we have taken significant action on this case.

'Foreign Office staff in India have been providing support to all six men since their arrest and are working to make sure their welfare is protected in prison. We are also in regular contact with their families in the UK

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