Families call for '˜nightmare of ex-soldiers in an Indian jail to end'

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.

Families of British crew detained in India: Ann Towers, Yvonne MacHugh, Lisa Dunn, Carole Edmunds, Joanne Tomlinson and Jessica McKemp

Paul Towers, a former member of the Parachute Regiment from Pocklington; former Army sniper Ray Tindall, from Chester, whose mother Carole Ann Edmonds lives at Keyingham, near Hull; and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire, were 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.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But security forces, known as Q’ branch, appealed against the decision to the Supreme Court.

They had been hoping to be freed last month, but they, their families and The Mission to Seafarers, which have been supporting them, were stunned when they were instead jailed for five years.

A fresh appeal has been submitted and a bail hearing is expected on Tuesday.

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 of a prison.

“Without the unwavering support and loyalty of our family, friends and colleagues, we would not have survived this traumatic time in our lives, and we remain humbled at the generosity and kindness of all these people and those we don’t know who have signed the petition, or donated to help in our plight.

“We pray for the appeal to be expedited as quickly as possible and that justice will prevail, so that our beloved men are allowed to come home.”

The families have relaunched a petition which will be handed to PM David Cameron calling on help for the men and which has now been signed by over 346,000 people: https://www.change.org/p/british-foreign-secretary-free-the-6-british-ex-soldiers-from-indian-jail.

They have also set up a national awareness campaign #FreeSGO6 on social media and hope to raise funds to support the crewmen via The Mission to Seafarers’ JustGiving website. The families have so far raised over £31,000 but hope to raise more as the legal fight moves into its 848th day. https://www.justgiving.com/freesgo6/

Jessica Kemp, partner of Mr Tindall, said: “I am appealing to the public to support our campaign by talking to your friends and writing to your local paper or MP on this matter, particularly those from the shipping and maritime industries who can vouch for the crew.

“You can talk to us via our Facebook page or on Twitter via #FreeSGO6. We need to keep this important case high on the radar for the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

Maritime lawyer, Stephen Askins, with UK firm Tatham Macinnes, said ships with weapons on board went in and out of Indian ports every single day: “The Seaman Guard Ohio went to get fuel and supplies offshore of a port which they are entitled to do under international maritime law and is an everyday necessity. Ships, like cars, need fuel.

“But the vessel was detained and brought into port. The men have been charged with possessing unlicensed weapons in the territorial waters of India.

“However, the vessel and the seamen represented no terrorist threat to India or its people at all, and the motivation behind bringing the charges is completely incomprehensible when set in the context of the crew’s primary role which was to protect the world’s commercial shipping fleet.

“The 35 guards and seafarers on board the vessel were a professional, multinational crew, which also included Indian sailors.”