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MPs urged by families to help Britons jailed in India

The 'Chennai Six'
Image caption (From top left, clockwise) Nick Dunn, Paul Towers, Nick Simpson, Ray Tindall, John Armstrong and Billy Irving

Relatives of six British seamen jailed in India four years ago have lobbied MPs to demand the government do more to help secure their release.

The six were arrested in October 2013 for taking weapons into India‘s territorial waters. They were convicted and jailed for five years in 2016.

The men deny any wrongdoing, saying the weapons were properly licensed.

A 405,000-signature petition calling for the “wrongly imprisoned” men to be freed has been handed in at Number 10.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Yvonne MacHugh, fiance of Billy Irving, and her two-year-old son, William delivered the petition with other relatives of the Chennai Six

Indian coastguards boarded their vessel, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, while the men were working as security guards to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Charges against them and 29 other crew members were initially quashed when the men argued the weapons were lawfully held for anti-piracy purposes.

However, a lower court reinstated the prosecution.

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The British men – all former soldiers – 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

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Joanne Thomlinson, the sister of John Armstrong, said: “My fiveyear-old son hasn’t seen his uncle John since he was a baby, he only really remembers him from pictures.

“My brother tries to take one day at a time, he spends his days walking, he’s learning a foreign language, that’s how he gets through each day, he gives himself little milestones.”

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption A number of other guards on the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, mainly Estonians, have also been jailed

Prime Minister Theresa May has raised the matter on a visit to India and Britain’s High Commissioner in India has visited the men in jail in Chennai, but the families say Foreign Office diplomacy is not working.

Speaking to the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme, Mrs Thomlinson added: “We know they’ve raised this case over 50 times at ministerial level with Indian counterparts, but we want them to put more pressure on in these discussions.”

Lawyer Stephen Askins, who represents the imprisoned men, said: “It is extraordinary that it is the fourth anniversary of the arrest and the initial detention of these men.

“I can’t believe that any of us would have thought we would still be here, four years later, dealing with this.”

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