David Cameron urged to help British ex-servicemen jailed in India

MV Seaman Guard Ohio Image copyright AP
Image caption The MV Seaman Guard Ohio was detained in October

Relatives of six former British servicemen jailed in India are urging the prime minister to help free them.

They plan to deliver a 136,000-strong petition to Downing Street and want the government to act as a guarantor.

The men had been working on a private US-owned ship providing anti-piracy protection when they were arrested over illegally possessing weapons.

They have been in jail since October and have since seen a decision over their bail deferred by the authorities.

The US maritime company AdvanFort insists their ship had the correct papers.

Weapons claim

The petition, which is to be delivered to Number 10 on Tuesday, calls for the men to be released and asks for the UK government's backing.

Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll; Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland; Ray Tindall from Chester; Paul Towers from Pocklington, Yorkshire; John Armstrong from Wigton, Cumbria, and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire, were arrested on 12 October and have been in prison in India since 24 October.

They were working for AdvanFort providing anti-piracy protection in the Indian Ocean when their ship, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, was detained.

The 35-member crew also included Indians, Ukrainians and Estonians.

The Indian authorities said they had intercepted the US ship and found weapons and ammunition on board which had not been properly declared.

AdvanFort said India's coastguard and police had allowed the ship into the port to refuel and shelter from a storm. It said all weapons had been properly registered.

Mr Irving's girlfriend, Yvonne MacHugh, who started the petition on, has urged the UK government to intervene.

Image caption Billy Irving, whose girlfriend and brother will hand over a petition at Downing Street

Ms MacHugh said a "security official in India" had told her that if the UK government were to provide assurances, the men would be freed.

The 25-year-old, who will deliver the petition alongside other family members of the men, said she had just returned from India, saying it was "the most emotional trip I have ever had to make".

'Difficult and important'

She said: "The men had lost a lot of weight, they looked exhausted and had lost hope of ever being released, their morale is at an all-time low."

The men have "no idea what is going on with their case", she said.

"It is in our government's hands to bring back these men who have fought for us as soldiers and now need the help of their country."

Revd Canon Ken Peters, director of justice and public affairs for the Mission to Seafarers said the families of the men are "desperately worried for their health and wellbeing".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "This is a difficult and important case, which the prime minister has raised with Indian ministers, as has the foreign secretary.

"We will continue to do all that we can."

The men were visited "regularly", the spokesman said.

He added: "While we are unable to demand the release of British nationals, or interfere in another country's legal processes, we continue to make very clear our interest in this case, and the importance of ensuring that it is resolved as quickly as possible."

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