Family of ‘Chennai Six’ British soldier break down in tears as they learn he will be FREED with his colleagues after spending four years in Indian jail
- Six former British soldiers were jailed in 2013 for ‘importing guns for jihadists’
- Group had been incarcerated in Puzhal prison, Chennai, for past four years
- On Monday judges at Madras High Court acquitted the men and set them free
- Family of Nick Dunn, one of the prisoners, broke down as they heard the news
The emotional family of a British ex-paratrooper broke down in tears on Monday as he was freed after spending four years in an Indian jail.
Nick Dunn, 31, was among a group of British ex-servicemen known as the Chennai Six who were arrested in October 2013 while working as mercenaries on an anti-piracy ship.
The men were subsequently jailed on charges of smuggling weapons for terrorists, but will now be freed after being acquitted by judges at Madras High Court.
The other men are Billy Irving, 37, from Argyll and Bute, John Armstrong, 30, of Wigton, Cumbria, Nicholas Simpson, 47, of Catterick, North Yorkshire, Ray Tindall, 42, of Chester, and Paul Towers, 54, of Pocklington, East Yorkshire.
The family of Nick Dunn, 31, a former paratrooper locked up in India for four years,celebrated after learning he would be freed on Monday (pictured from left, brother Paul, mother Margaret, father Jim and sister Lisa)
Mr Dunn, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, had begged the British government to secure his release. He is pictured with his older sister Lisa, 37
Mr Dunn’s family were filmed by the BBC receiving the news as they shared a hug before sobbing with joy.
Sipping champagne his sister, Lisa, said: ‘This is the best champagne in the world, it tastes like the best drink.
‘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.
Lisa said that ‘all of our dreams have come true’ after receiving the news that her brother will be coming home for Christmas
‘But that hasn’t happened today and we’ve had the best news ever.
‘It will make all of our Christmases, all of our dreams have come true today.’
Mr Dunn’s father, Jim, said: ‘Absolutely fantastic, the best news in the world.
‘We haven’t been a full family for a long time now. Nick won’t fully realise it’s over until his feet touch down in Newcastle.’
Yvonne MacHugh , fiancee of Billy Irving, said she was ‘over the moon’ after hearing the news.
‘I am just so relieved. I can’t believe it. I really didn’t think it was going to go our way after everything,’ she added.
She now hopes her partner will be home in time for Christmas, to spend it with his son, who has only ever seen him in the Indian prison.
She said: ‘It’s finally all over. All 35 men have been acquitted of all charges and should be coming home as soon as possible.
‘The hope is now they will get home for Christmas. Ideally, I want him home tomorrow. After four years and all the hard work, it’s all paid off.
‘William is at nursery just now, so as soon as he is finished I am going to get him on Facetime and tell him the good news.
‘I just can’t wait to get home and give him the biggest hug ever.’
John Armstrong (pictured, with his mother Helen and father John) was one of the Chennai Six freed on Monday after being held for four years in India
Paul Towers (pictured, in Afghanistan) spent 12 years in the Paras and 20 as a prison officer
They were all sentenced to serve five years in Puzhal Central Prison, Chennai, (pictured), where they are said to have to go to the toilet ‘in a hole in the ground’
The 29-year-old mother returned from a six-day trip to India on November 19.
A statement on the Chennai 6 Facebook page said: ‘The Appeal Court has today found all 35 men NOT GUILTY we now wait to hear as and when the men will be allowed home to their families.
‘This may take some time whilst the authorities decide whether they agree with the outcome or wish to appeal.
‘If they wish to appeal the men might be released from prison but not allowed back to the UK.
‘But the families are understandable delighted that finally common sense and justice has prevailed.’
The Madurai bench of Madras High Court directed the men to apply to the authorities to get back their passports back.
The men were also told they will be entitled to get back fines they have paid so far.
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.
Billy Irving, 35, left, and Ray Tindall, 41, were also among the veterans jailed in India
(From left) Mr Simpson, Paul Towers, 52, Mr Tindall and Billy Irving were all working for US marine company AdvanFort when they were arrested in 2013
‘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 Indian authorities accused them of ‘importing guns for jihadists’ – although the punishment was branded a ‘miscarriage of justice’ by their families and politicians in Britain.
Speaking last year, Mr Armstrong’s brother, Joanne Thomlinson, said: ‘Christmas and birthdays, you would normally be with your family. These days are a bit harder for John and the others to get through. The whole thing is an absolute tragedy.
‘It is incredible to think what impact this has had on so many lives. So many parents, children, brothers and sisters, wives – just completely lost while their loved one suffers in prison.’
Indian coastguards first boarded their vessel, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, and arrested them for bringing weapons into India’s territorial waters in October 2013.
The charges were initially quashed when the men argued the weapons were lawfully held for anti-piracy purposes and their paperwork, issued by the UK Government, was in order.
Nicholas Simpson, 46, pictured with wife Tracy, 45, served in the army for 24 years and had been separated from his two young sons
Mr Towers with a #freethebeard sign he made while calling to be released. Right is John Armstrong, 30, who lost three stone during his captivity
But a lower court reinstated the prosecution and they were sentenced to five years in jail.
Their families say the ‘Chennai Six’ have been held in ‘horrendous’ conditions, sleeping on concrete floors, in sweltering heat with inadequate water, prison meals of ‘curried slop and rice’ and poor sanitation, with toilets being a hole in the floor.
The smell ‘just hits you’ on entering the prison, say relatives who have visited to take supplies including teabags, sweets and toilet paper. None of the men were allowed telephone calls home.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: ‘Since I became Foreign Secretary, this case has been a top priority for everybody at the Foreign Office (FCO) and today’s verdict is fantastic news.
‘The FCO has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families. The importance the UK Government places on their case cannot be understated.
‘The men, their families and their supporters, who have campaigned unrelentingly, must be overjoyed.
‘I share their delight and I hope they can return home as soon as possible.’