Government urged to help free former soldiers held in squalor

David Cameron has been urged to intervene
David Cameron has been urged to intervene

Relatives of a group of former British soldiers, including one from Pocklington, who have been jailed in India, are to deliver a 100,000-strong petition urging the UK Government to intervene.

Supporters including families of the six men will hand the petition in at Downing Street today, to coincide with a bail hearing for the group, urging Prime Minister David Cameron to step in.

They were working for US maritime company Advanfort providing anti-piracy protection when their ship was detained.

Paul Towers, from Pocklington, along with Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire, were arrested on 12 October and have been in prison since 24 October.

Also among those imprisoned is Ray Tindall, a former member of the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire regiment and with links to Hull, as well as Billy Irving, from Scotland, Nick Dunn, from Northumberland and John Armstrong from Cumbria.

Since their arrest there have been numerous reports about the squalor they have been enduring while incarcerated, as well as several heart-felt appeals from relatives desperate for their release and who have struggled to communicate with their loved ones.

According to the men, Indian authorities claim the vessel entered Indian waters illegally with weapons on board, despite Advanfort apparently insisting the ship had the correct papers.

The men were all granted bail in December by the Indian authorities but – following objections from officials – they have yet to be released.

And with another bail hearing due today, their loved ones have started a petition on online platform, calling for the men to be released and for the UK Government to act as their bail guarantors.

According to relatives, an Indian security adviser has said if the British government were to provide assurances, the men would most likely be released.

The petition will be delivered to Downing Street by Mr Irving’s girlfriend Yvonne MacHugh and his brother Colin Irving.

Ms MacHugh, 25, from Connel in north-west Scotland, said: “I’ve just returned from India after what was the hardest and most emotional trip I have ever had to make.

“The men had lost a lot of weight, they looked exhausted and had lost hope of ever being released, their morale is at an all-time low.”

Ms MacHugh added: “With very little communication from lawyers and the company, they have no idea what is going on with their case and I feel they’re being scapegoated.

“We have now heard from a security official in India that if the UK Government gives these men surety, they will be released and allowed home.

“It is in our Government’s hands to bring back these men who have fought for us as soldiers and now need the help of their country.”

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “This is a difficult and important case, which the Prime Minister has raised with Indian ministers, as has the Foreign Secretary.

“We will continue to do all that we can.

“Consular staff continue to provide full assistance to all those British nationals detained. They are visiting regularly.

The spokesman added: “While we are unable to demand the release of British nationals, or interfere in another country’s legal processes, we continue to make very clear our interest in this case, and the importance of ensuring that it is resolved as quickly as possible.”