MP calls Chennai 6 case “scandalous” as supporters lobby to secure guards’ release

Families, friends, supporters and politicians came together at the House of Commons this morning (Thursday) in a parliamentary lobby to publicise the plight of the ‘Chennai 6’.

The six British men were part of the 35-strong crew convicted of carrying firearms without permits on an anti-piracy vessel, the US-owned Seaman Guard Ohio, in Indian Waters four years ago.

The lobby was chaired by Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck in Northumberland, whose constituent Nick Dunn, 31, is one of the Brits being held in the squalor of an Indian prison, and was also attended by some of the other guards’ MPs.

Mr Dunn’s, and the other men’s paperwork – issued by the UK Government – was in order, yet a judge still convicted them and sentenced them in 2016 to five years imprisonment. An appeal was heard last November but despite Indian law requiring a decision within three months, the families of the men – all former servicemen – are still awaiting an outcome.

Their plight took a dramatic turn last week when the appeal judge stood down saying he was finding it hard to understand the case, and there was a further twist this morning when the families’ legal representative, maritime lawyer Stephen Askins, said the Foreign Office had been in touch to say the judge might be reconsidering his decision.

“This is absolutely scandalous,” said Mr Lavery, who added that while he understood that as a country the UK could not interfere with another country’s jurisdiction, the Government should intervene as the case was flawed.

He praised the families for their fighting spirit and this was echoed by maritime security consultant and Chennai 6 campaigner Jordan Wylie.

He said between them the men had 74 years of service adding: “They have served our country. Why are we not helping them in their hour of need?”

Mr Wylie said their imprisonment was “an absolute breach of their human rights.”

Joanne Thomlinson, sister of 30-year-old John Armstrong, of Wigton, Cumbria said her brother had had precious years of his life taken away, having been just 27 when he was arrested. She added that she saw the campaign as a fight for freedom, not a fight for justice.

“Justice can never be done as they’ve had so many years of their lives robbed of them.”

Yvonne MacHugh, of Oban, Scotland whose partner Billy Irving, 37, is also imprisoned, had to go through a difficult birth with the couple’s first child while he has been in jail.

Choking back tears, she told the lobby: “It’s a day he will never get back again. Our lives will never be the same again. The past few years have been a living nightmare.”

While Lisa Dunn, sister of Nick Dunn, who criticised the lack of Government intervention, said: “I wake up every day knowing this nightmare is real.”

Following the lobby, the families and supporters went to Downing Street where Billy Irving’s son, William, aged two, and John Armstrong’s nephew, Josh, aged five, delivered a petition containing 405,000 signatures calling for the release of the Chennai 6.

The campaign has so far received the support of HRH Prince Charles, HRH Prince Harry, and a number of celebrities including the cast of two British serial dramas – Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

Emmerdale actor John Bowe is pictured with Chennai 6 campaigner Jordan Wylie outside Downing Street.

Also pictured are Lisa with her mum and MP Ian Lavery and Yvonne MacHugh with son, William.