THE partner of a pirate hunter jailed for five years in India claims he has been abandoned in his hell-hole prison cell by the Foreign Office.
Former Para Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll, was sentenced after being convicted of breaching arms laws with five other British maritime security guards in a case described as a miscarriage of justice by supporters.
His partner Yvonne MacHugh says the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) are failing the men and their families back in the UK.
The 27-year-old said: “They have no compassion whatsoever and I feel like I’m a burden to them.
“My understanding is that they look after the welfare of British citizens abroad, despite this being at the bottom of a long list of jobs they do, the top being to build business relations.
“They expect praise for anything they do, despite this being their job and being paid to do it.
“Frankly, I’m sick of their empty words and lack of actions. They completely dismiss the men and are treating them like common criminals while knowing full well they are innocent.”
Billy has been stranded in legal limbo in India since 2013 along with crewmates from the anti-piracy ship Seaman Guard Ohio.
The 35-year-old and fellow Britons Ray Tindall, Nick Dunn, Paul Towers, John Armstrong and Nicholas Simpson had all been employed on anti-piracy duties in international waters by US firm AdvanFort.
They were arrested after the ship strayed into Indian waters and weapons were found.
The men, including 14 Estonians and three Ukrainians, were originally held for six months after their arrest, before the charges against them were quashed.
But police appealed the ruling and the men were convicted on January 11. They returned to prison with virtually no contact with the outside world.
Their legal team have lodged a bail application and appeal with Madhuri high court while
Billy shares a filthy cell with his 22 colleagues in notorious Puzhal prison in Chennai.
Yvonne, who travelled to see Billy in a surprise visit last week, said: “The FCO’s weekly updates to the families cause more distress than comfort. We are four weeks into this and they have yet to send us a list of items that are prohibited to send to the prison.
“They say they will look after the men’s welfare but will only visit them once every three months. The men cannot phone them if they need help.
“The rules also state that family and friends can visit the men yet the prison are only allowing family – and the FCO are not following this up.
“None of their Indian friends have been given permission to visit them and they aren’t allowed letters or phone calls.”
Yvonne had an emotional reunion with her partner in the jail last week and says that, despite the ordeal, he is bearing up. She didn’t tell Billy she was coming and left their 11-month-old son William with relatives to make the pilgrimage from their home in Neilston, Renfrewshire.
Yvonne said: “When we turned up at the prison, he had been at the governor’s office and he spotted me. He came running round past the guards.
“We were allowed to sit together in the office on a bench and got two hours with each other. It was incredible, so emotional. I had been imagining I would only be able to see him behind bars.”
Yvonne took a precious photo album of the son Billy has only been able to spend two weeks with since his birth almost a year ago. Yvonne & Billy in happier time.
William took his first steps at home in Scotland just days after Billy was convicted.
She said: “It was crammed full of 150 pictures of us together. I put in loads of pictures of William.
“Even in the few weeks Billy’s been in prison, he’s started walking and got so much bigger.”
Billy will miss another precious landmark when William turns one on February 25.
Yvonne said: “The FCO went to visit him last week and got him to sign a birthday card for
William. Billy and I thought he was going to be back for William’s first birthday and that we would get married in April.
“Our whole life is in pieces. How can one man take so much? But he makes me so proud.”
Yvonne says conditions in the prison are squalid. She added: “They have no personal space and share one toilet, which is a hole in the floor.
“They don’t have beds – they have to sleep on the concrete floor. Although they have got access to clean water, they have to pay for it. And they have to wash out of buckets.
“Billy caught dysentery the last time in prison and he lost 3st. He’s working in the bakery and I just hope he manages to stay healthy.”
Billy, who served with the Parachute Regiment for 10 years and left in 2011, is determined to treat his time there like an army exercise and told Yvonne that if she looked after herself and William, he could cope.
She added: “He said I was to keep fighting and look after the two of us. The men are desperate for information and to know the outside world hasn’t forgotten about them. Nobody expected the verdict – that’s what made it so hard.”
Yvonne travelled to India with Joanne Thomlison, a sister of jailed crewmate John Armstrong, from Wigton in Cumbria.
They met Dr Alexander Evans, the acting Indian high commissioner.
Yvonne said: “He did make the effort to come and see us and for that I was grateful but a lot of it seemed like empty words.
“He didn’t say he would fight to get them out but said he would look after their welfare and ask for a speedy appeal. But as a fiancee and mother, of course I want more done – nothing will be good enough until he’s back home.“
Yvonne has travelled to India four times to see Billy during his two-year fight to return home.
Last May, she took William over to allow father and son to meet for the first time. Billy was forced to miss his birth because he was barred from leaving the country.
But Yvonne says her latest visit, especially, has taken an emotional toll.
She added: “They simply cannot be forgotten about and left to rot. It’s no place for anyone, never mind an innocent man, and they need to be returned home as soon as possible.”
David Cameron wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November calling for the six Britons to be released at the end of their trial.
Supporters of the men have launched a JustGiving page to help raise £100,000 to fund their legal appeal.
The couple’s constituency MP Kirsten Oswald has raised the case in Parliament and has spoken with Foreign Office ministers.
She said: “Billy hasn’t done anything wrong. We need to keep up the political pressure and that’s certainly something I’m doing.”
Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll, said he and other politicians were given an unofficial line not to “rock the boat” when Modi visited Britain in November as Cameron would speak with him about the men’s case.
He added: “They were confident things would be OK. When the convictions came in, I think the Foreign Office were knocked flat by them.”
An FCO spokeswoman said staff have been in close contact with all six men and are continuing to provide support. She added: “The men have submitted bail and appeal applications. We continue to press for this case to be taken forward as quickly as possible.”
Read more at http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/fiance-scots-pirate-hunter-trapped-7325120#g1wOcDtmTVcTv53b.99