Family of Yorkshire pilot held in African prison keep hopes up

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THE family of a pilot from Yorkshire languishing in an African prison on suspicion of murder after discovering a suspected massacre by the forces of a notorious warlord last night said they are hopeful he will head home within weeks.

David Simpson, 24, who left his family farm in Gillamoor, near Pickering, North Yorkshire, to work for a big game company in the Central African Republic (CAR), was arrested six weeks ago after he stumbled upon the gruesome scene in the bush involving 18 bodies which had been horrifically mutilated.

Mr Simpson, who works as a manager and pilot for the Swedish safari company, was arrested along with his boss Erik Mararv and 10 Central Africans after reporting the massacre to local officials and has been in prison ever since.

He has been named as an official murder suspect despite the attacks bearing the hallmarks of the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) whose leader, Joseph Kony, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

An investigation into the massacre is continuing, and yesterday his 22-year-old brother Paul Simpson, who has recently returned from a two-month spell working alongside David in the country, told the Yorkshire Post he was confident he would be freed in time to make a flight home booked for May 21.

“We are just trying to laugh it off at the moment, if that makes sense,” said Paul, who lives with his mother and father Vicky and Peter on the family game farm, and speaks to his brother daily from the jail.

“He booked that flight when he went into prison and he is planning on getting it.

“It makes it easier for me than my parents because I have been out there and seen how corrupt the country is at first hand.

“It is a help for David when we speak because it keeps his spirits up.

“It must have been terrible for him to find those bodies, but I haven’t really asked him about that.

“He is in a cell with five other people that they had to pay a bit of money to get him in – he has a phone and a laptop as well.”

Mr Simpson grew up on the farm and was working as the manager of a factory in Sheffield when he gained his pilot’s licence and applied for the job in the country.

“He was very restless and never settled anywhere really,” said his brother.

“I suppose he got the call of the wild.”

His family has set up a Facebook group to campaign for his release, which now has more than 3,000 members.

The Lord’s Resistance Army – which recently made international headlines when a controversial charity’s video on leader Joseph Kony video was viewed around 90 million times – has been active in the country for a number of years after being pushed out of Uganda by Government forces.

The rebel group is notorious for its kidnapping of children and adults to use as soldiers and slaves.

Paul Simpson said his brother had already come across a victim in the bush earlier this year who had both legs broken by the rebel soldiers.

Fair Trials International’s chief executive Jago Russell said: “The Central African Republic has been widely condemned for its appalling human rights record including harsh and life-threatening conditions in its detention centres.

“Mr Simpson has already spent a month in prison there, far from family and friends at home and we hope that this ordeal and uncertainty is brought to an end as soon possible.”

The Foreign Office says it is providing support.