12 Feb 2016 — Families’ talk of their anguish at five year jail sentences ahead of the bail hearing and seek a second appeal in the High Court
The Mission to Seafarers has been speaking with the British families of the Seaman Guard Ohio crew who have been informed today that the bail hearing for the men will be next Tuesday 16 February in India. Lawyers for the crew have also submitted a fresh appeal against the sentences of 5 years in prison to the High Court in Madras.
Lisa Dunn, sister of Nick Dunn from Ashington Northumberland, said: “Our family feel a sense of comfort knowing that the initial appeal procedure is now underway and the application for bail will be heard next week. This is very frustrating in that we still have to continue to fight to prove the men’s innocence for a second time yet extremely daunting given the unbelievable guilty sentence passed to them. Our family are not prepared to accept this verdict and we will continue to do all we can to ensure justice prevails.”
Lisa Dunn will be visiting the jail in Chennai India where her young brother is imprisoned from 28 February on his 30th birthday.
Ann Towers, wife of Paul Towers from Pocklington East Yorkshire, said: “Despite the shock subsiding after the verdict, our hearts remain broken at the decision to imprison the men. This is utter madness that men who have led lives of integrity and service should end up behind the bars of a prison. Without the unwavering support and loyalty of our family, friends and colleagues, we would not have survived this traumatic time in our lives, and we remain humbled at the generosity and kindness of all these people and those we don’t know who have signed the petition, or donated to help in our plight. We pray for the appeal to be expedited as quickly as possible and that justice will prevail, so that our beloved men are allowed to come home.”
Yvonne MacHugh, partner of Billy Irving from Connel in Argyll Scotland, said:” I am disgusted with Advanfort the company, and the way they have treated the men. The US based shipping company has just abandoned them. Our men save hundreds of lives at sea and protect merchant ships from pirates. Ask any merchant seamen and they will tell you that they are innocent. There is no case to answer and I am optimistic, but we have all suffered enough; and I don’t know how much more heartache, disappointment and mental torture the men or ourselves can take. I just want this nightmare to end and for them all to be brought home.”
Joanne Tomlinson, sister of John Armstrong from Wigton Cumbria, said: “”It is almost a month since the verdict that sentenced John and his colleagues to 5 years imprisonment and we are relieved that the lawyers have been able to lodge a swift appeal. We just have to hope and pray that the appeals process will move as quickly as possible and that justice will prevail so that these innocent men who have suffered terribly over the last two and a half years will finally be allowed to come home. It’s the unwavering support of family, friends and the general public that gets us all through these incredibly tough times and for that support we are eternally grateful.”
Jessica Kemp, partner of Ray Tindall from Chester, said: “I am appealing to the public to support our campaign by talking to your friends and writing to your local paper or MP on this matter, particularly those from the shipping and maritime industries who can vouch for the crew. You can talk to us via our Facebook page or on Twitter via #FreeSGO6. We need to keep this important case high on the radar for the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
The families have relaunched a petition which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron calling on help for the men and which has now been signed by over 346,000 people. https://www.change.org/p/british-foreign-secretary-free-the-6-british-ex-soldiers-from-indian-jail
They have also set up a national awareness campaign #FreeSGO6 on social media and hope to raise funds to support the crewmen via The Mission to Seafarers’ JustGiving website. The families have so far raised over £31,000 but hope to raise more as the legal fight moves into it’s 847th day.
The sixth British man imprisoned is Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick North Yorkshire.
Revd Canon Ken Peters, Director of Justice and Public Affairs, The Mission to Seafarers, said: “The crew and their families continue to take expert legal advice after been sentenced to 5 years in prison relating to the events that led up to the arrest of the vessel in Tuticorin in October 2013. I hope and pray that the bail hearing next week is successful. We continue to press for the intervention of the local and international authorities on this matter who have a responsibility to ensure that seafarers and ships remain protected from the activities of pirates and this necessitates taking into account international maritime law .Our Mission Director for the Gulf and India, The Revd Dr Paul Burt tried unsuccessfully to visit the British men in jail this week but he continues to maintain a dialogue with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office based locally there.”
Ken Peters and Yvonne MacHugh spoke with the BBC World Service this week to raise international awareness of the matter.
Maritime lawyer, Stephen Askins, with UK firm Tatham Macinnes, said: “The fact is that floating armouries are widely used in the maritime industry; there were weapons on board, but they are strictly controlled, stored and accounted for in the same way as when arms are legitimately stored in a military armoury. Ships with weapons stored on board go in and out of Indian ports every day single day. The Seaman Guard Ohio went to get fuel and supplies offshore of a port which they are entitled to do under international maritime law and is an everyday necessity. Ships, like cars, need fuel. But the vessel was detained and brought into port. The men have been charged with possessing unlicensed weapons in the territorial waters of India. However, the vessel and the seamen represented no terrorist threat to India or its people at all, and the motivation behind bringing the charges is completely incomprehensible when set in the context of the crew’s primary role which was to protect the world’s commercial shipping fleet. The 35 guards and seafarers on board the vessel were a professional, multinational crew, which also included Indian sailors.”