Glasgow & West Scotland

Partner of Scot held in Indian jail raises safety concerns

Billy Irving and Yvonne MacHugh

The partner of a Scot held in jail in India on firearms charges says she fears for his life.

Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll, was among 35 sailors and guards who were arrested on the anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio on 12 October 2013.

His fiancée Yvonne MacHugh raised concerns about his safety after an alleged assault on another British man also being held in the prison.

She told BBC Scotland: "Our men are good men. They are innocent."

Former soldier Mr Irving is among six UK nationals arrested after the anti-piracy ship they were working on strayed into Indian waters without permission.

The other five are:

  • John Armstrong, from Wigton, Cumbria
  • Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland
  • Ray Tindall, from Chester
  • Paul Towers, from Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire
  • Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire

The charges against them were later quashed but the men were unable to leave India while prosecutors pursued an appeal which was successful. They were subsequently jailed for five years.

They have always denied any wrongdoing and their families have been campaigning tirelessly for their release.

Earlier this month, relatives of John Armstrong claimed he had been taken by prison guards to a mental institute where he was drugged and beaten.

Ms MacHugh, along with the Mr Armstrong's sister Joanne Thomlison, is meeting with officials from the Foreign Office and later with the High Commissioner of India to raise the matter.

Image copyright Yvonne MacHugh
Image caption Billy Irving and Yvonne MacHugh with their son William

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland ahead of those meetings, Ms MacHugh described conditions in the prison in Chennai as "pretty horrific".

"They have to pay for clean water and have very little food. If it wasn't for the care packages that friends, families and strangers send to them then they would be malnourished. They are sleeping on floors, with no air-conditioning and no sanitary essentials. It really is disgusting."

Last month Ms MacHugh, who has a two-year-old son, visited her partner in the jail.

She said: "I'm doing okay. I am kept busy with our son. I am working and trying to fight for justice for Billy so that keeps me very much focussed.

"Billy, on the other hand, has nothing. He's just in prison and can't do anything, can't see us, can't speak to his son. It's mentally challenging for him.

"We have very little communication. We have no phone calls."

Joanne Thomlinson also spoke to Radio Scotland and gave details about the alleged assault on her brother.

She said he was taken from the prison after the guards decided he was walking around too much.

"He was put in a cell and injected against his will. He was tied to a bed and had rags tied to his neck until he was barely conscious, and he was punched," she added.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The men were working onboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio
Image caption Billy Irving and John Armstrong are among six Britons held at the prison in Chennai in India

The BBC has been unable to verify this account of what happened.

However, Ms Thomlinson said her mother has since visited John in prison and he is now "fit and well and getting on with it".

She added: "Unfortunately, this incident is just another thing that he and the other men have to accept and have to get on with. On a daily basis, they are coping with this injustice and everything that happens to them is an injustice and it's wrong.

"It's such a dangerous situation. It's a worry every day."

'No threat'

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We take all allegations of torture or mistreatment very seriously. When an issue is raised, if the individual consents, we will always urgently request a full and independent investigation be put in place by the local authorities and closely monitor the situation.

"Foreign Office staff in India have been providing support to all six men in Chennai since their arrest and continue to work to make sure their welfare is protected in prison. We are in regular contact with their families in the UK.

"We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved and we have taken significant action on this case."

Ms MacHugh said the meeting with the High Commissioner of India was a chance to raise more awareness of the case.

She said she would tell him: "Our men are good men. They are innocent men who have been protecting lives since they began working. They are no threat to anyone."

Both women said their fight for justice was "all-consuming".

And Ms MacHugh said her fears now were also for her son William's future.

"On a daily basis we talk about Billy and I show him pictures and videos. If you show him a picture of who his dad is then he will say 'daddy'.

"He is so young and doesn't quite grasp having a dad or really understand. I just hope this situation doesn't drag on long enough that he does start to realise that other children have dads, and ask: 'Where is my dad?'"

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