Six former British soldiers working as part of a private security team protecting ships from piracy have been released from prison in India after serving four years for possessing weapons.
The “Chennai Six”, who had all previously served in either the Parachute or Yorkshire Regiments, were acquitted on Monday and told by a judge to apply to get their passports returned, ending a long wait for them and their families in the UK.
Billy Irving, 37, Nick Dunn, 31, John Armstrong, 30, Nicholas Simpson, 47, Ray Tindall, 42, and Paul Towers, 54, were among 35 imprisoned in October 2013 while working as security on commercial ships to protect against pirates in the Indian Ocean.
They were jailed in 2013 along with 14 Estonian, 12 Indian and three Ukrainian colleagues when their vessel, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, was boarded by the Indian Navy for entering its waters without permission. All the men worked for AdvanFort, a maritime security company.
Indian authorities found weapons and ammunition on board and the men were charged with possession of illegal firearms. Following an initial conviction the charges were quashed when the men argued they had the right permits and clearance for them as they were an anti-piracy unit.
But they they were later reconvicted when a lower court reinstated the charges, as the Indian justice system, both in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and nationally, moved their case between courts and judges.
Monday’s decision by the Madurai bench of the High Court in Chennai said the 35 crew members could now apply to get back their passports. Money spent on fines would also be reimbursed, the court ruled.
David McMullen, Coordinator for the ‘Chennai6’ Campaign, said: “Absolutely fantastic news. It was a bit of a blur for a second when I first heard. Having campaigned for so long and seen what the families have gone through it’s amazing we’ve finally got them free.”
On hearing the news at their family home in Britain, Yvonne McHugh, partner of Billy Irving said she was over the moon. “They’ve all been acquitted, all 35 of them,” she said. “We are just waiting to hear how soon they’ll be home. That’s the biggest hurdle we faced and all of them have been acquitted.”
Lisa Dunn, the sister of Nick Dunn, said: “The longer it went on, as much as you still have an element of hope, it does dwindle after having so many delays and setbacks. It will make all of our Christmases. All of our dreams have come true today.”
Downing Street welcomed the decision. Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “The Government, from the Prime Minister down, has worked hard for over four years to support the men and their families and we share their happiness at the court’s decision to give a full acquittal to each of the men.
“We are now working with the Indian authorities to discuss the next steps. We will continue to offer the men and their families consular assistance for as long as it is needed.”
The Telegraph UK