Minister meets six UK seamen held in India with appeal update

A Foreign Office minister has met six British seamen who have been detained in India since 2013 to give them an update on their appeal.

Mark Field, the UK's minister for Asia, visited the "Chennai Six" at Puzhal prison in Chennai on Wednesday.

The men involved are Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll and Bute, Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland, Ray Tindall, from Chester, Paul Towers, from Yorkshire, John Armstrong, from Wigton, Cumbria, and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire.

All had been working for US maritime company AdvanFort providing anti-piracy protection when their ship, MV Seaman Guard Ohio, was detained and weapons found.

They were arrested in October 2013 on illegal weapons charges, which were dropped in the following months, but an appeal followed from the Indian authorities and in 2016 they were convicted and sentenced to five years in jail.

The men have always protested their innocence and appealed against the charges, maintaining they held appropriate licences for the weapons.

Mr Field said: "These men have been separated from their families for four years and have had an incredibly difficult experience. They are adamant that they are innocent of the crime they are in prison for.

"I wanted to meet with them personally to give them my assurance that we are still doing everything we can to help them.

"It is not for us to tell India's independent justice system what to do, we cannot and should not, but we can make clear the importance we place on this case."

Mr Field, alongside consular staff, also checked on the men's welfare and delivered family messages during the visit.

Theresa May raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 summit earlier this year and the Foreign Secretary raised it with his Indian counterpart in July.

The other 29 crew members, from Ukraine, Estonia and India, were also imprisoned.

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