India firearms charge ex-soldiers sent to jail

media captionAnti-piracy workers react to jail terms

Six former soldiers from the UK who worked on an anti-piracy ship have each been sentenced to five years in prison in India.

They were arrested on firearms charges in October 2013 when the ship they were on was found to be full of weapons.

The charges were dropped, but the Indian authorities appealed against the decision and have now won their case.

All 35 sailors and guards on the boat received five-year sentences and were ordered to pay 3,000 rupees (£30).

The British men sentenced are:

  • Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland
  • Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll
  • Ray Tindall, from Chester
  • Paul Towers, from Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire
  • John Armstrong, from Wigton, Cumbria
  • Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire

The men were arrested on board a ship owned by an American company which offered armed protection services to vessels sailing through an area known as "pirates' alley" between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

image captionNick Dunn (l) and Billy Irving are among those sentenced to five years in jail

Customs officials and police found 35 guns, including semi-automatic weapons, and almost 6,000 rounds of ammunition on board the ship which did not have permission to be in Indian waters.

A court in Tamil Nadu upheld the claim by the Indian authorities that the vessel was not properly licensed.

The men have consistently denied any wrongdoing and claim they have been abandoned by their American employers.

They also say they have not been paid since November 2013.

'Absolutely disgusting'

Speaking after being convicted, Mr Dunn said: "They have no evidence against us to say we've committed any crime and yet they have found us guilty.

"I have done six months in prison, I've done 27 months in total and now they've sentenced me to do a further five years. This is absolutely disgusting."

Meanwhile John Armstrong said: "I should be surprised but I'm not.

"I'm a bit speechless but I'd seen it coming. We will appeal, but I don't know when because I haven't spoken to the lawyer."

Billy Irving's partner, Yvonne MacHugh, said: "After two long years of fighting to get my partner Billy home I'm devastated with today's verdict.

"For the next five years our son won't have a father at home."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that the men had 90 days to appeal against the decision.

image copyrightAP
image captionIndian authorities said weapons and ammunition on board had not been properly declared

A spokesman said: "Our staff in India and the UK have been in close contact with all six men since their arrest to provide support to them and their families, including attending court.

"Ministers have also raised this case at the highest levels, pressing for delays to be resolved.

"We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved. There is now a 90 day window to appeal and we will continue to provide consular assistance.

"However, we cannot interfere in another country's judicial process."

'Nightmare continues'

Ken Peters, director of Justice and Public Affairs at the Mission to Seafarers, said: "To think that highly trained professionals, properly accredited and doing a job that is protecting the world's interests are then penalised in such a way is unthinkable."

Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, said he would continue to campaign for the return home of constituent Mr Dunn and the other men.

He said: "This verdict will have come as a hammer blow to Nick and the other men coming only a matter of months after a court had quashed all of the charges.

"Sadly this bizarre judgment, charging former British servicemen with the maximum penalty for handling arms, means the nightmare continues.

"I will continue to work with Nick's family to fight for his release and return to the UK and am seeking urgent discussions on the way forward and seeking an early resolution to this miscarriage of justice."

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