RELATIVES of a group of former British soldiers, including one from Chester, who have been jailed in India are to deliver a 100,000-strong petition urging the UK Government to intervene.
Supporters, including families of the six men detained, will hand the petition in at Downing Street today to coincide with a bail hearing for the group, urging Prime Minister David Cameron to step in.
Award-winning sausage-maker Ray Tindall, 38, of Chester, Billy Irving from Connel, Scotland; Nick Dunn from Ashington, Northumberland; Paul Towers from Yorkshire; John Armstrong from Wigton, Cumbria, and Nicholas Simpson from Catterick, North Yorkshire, were arrested on October 12 and have been in prison in India since October 24.
The men were working for US private maritime company Advanfort providing anti-piracy protection when their ship was detained for allegedly entering Indian territorial waters with weaponry.
Thousands of people from Chester have signed the petition to help secure the release of the former army sniper from Newton and his fellow prisoners.
They have been locked up in an Indian jail since last October.
Mr Tindall, who runs Faralys Fine Produce, has already seen his plight recognised at the highest level with Prime Minister David Cameron and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh having discussed the situation of the men.
According to the men, Indian authorities claim the vessel entered Indian waters illegally with weapons on board, despite Advanfort apparently insisting the ship had the correct papers.
They were granted bail in December but after objections from Indian officials, they have yet to be released.
And with another bail hearing due today, their loved ones have started a petition on online platform Change.org, calling for the men to be released and the UK Government to act as guarantors.
According to relatives, an Indian security adviser has said if the British government were to provide assurances, the men would most likely be released.
The petition will be delivered to Downing Street by Mr Irving’s girlfriend Yvonne MacHugh and his brother Colin Irving.
Ms MacHugh, 25, from Connel in North West Scotland, said: “I’ve just returned from India after what was the hardest and most emotional trip I’ve ever had to make.
“The men have lost a lot of weight. They look exhausted and have lost hope of ever being released. Their morale is at an all-time low.
“With very little communication from lawyers and the company, they have no idea what is going on with their case. I feel they’re being scapegoated.
“We have now heard from a security official in India that if the UK Government gives these men surety, they will be released and allowed home.
“It’s 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.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “This is a difficult and important case, which the Prime Minister has raised with Indian ministers, as has the Foreign Secretary.
“We’ll continue to do all that we can.
“Consular staff continue to provide full assistance to all those British nationals detained.
“They are visiting regularly.
“While we’re 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.”
See full story in the Chester Leader