Families appeal to free ex-servicemen

Paul Towers, a former member of the Parachute Regiment from Pocklington
Paul Towers, a former member of the Parachute Regiment from Pocklington

The families of the six British ex-soldiers held in India for nearly 850 days are appealing for the public’s help to bring to an end “the utter madness” of their jail hell.

Paul Towers, a former member of the Parachute Regiment from Pocklington, was among 35 crew arrested on the anti-piracy vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio in October 2013.

Charges against the men, including carrying weapons and entering Indian territorial waters, were quashed by the High Court in July 2014 and the men freed. But security forces, known as Q branch, appealed against the decision to the Supreme Court.

They were expecting to be freed last month, but instead were devastated when they were jailed for five years. A fresh appeal has been submitted and a bail hearing was held on Tuesday (16 February).

Ann Towers, wife of Paul Towers, from Pocklington, said: “Despite the shock subsiding after the verdict, our hearts remain broken at the decision to imprison the men.

“This is utter madness that men who have led lives of integrity and service should end up behind the bars in prison.”

The families have no direct communication with the men and the Mission to Seafarers’ Director for the Gulf and India, The Revd Dr Paul Burt, tried unsuccessfully to visit them in jail last week.

Yvonne MacHugh, partner of Billy Irving from Connel in Argyll, Scotland, said the men had been abandoned by their employer, the US-based shipping firm Advanfort: “There is no case to answer and I am optimistic, but we have all suffered enough; and I don’t know how much more heartache, disappointment and mental torture the men or ourselves can take.”

The families have relaunched a petition on change.org which will be handed to PM David Cameron calling on help for the men and which has now been signed by more than 346,000 people.

They also hope to raise funds to support the crewmen via The Mission to Seafarers’ JustGiving website. The families have so far raised more than £31,000 as the legal fight moves into its 850th day.