The Sunday Post can exclusively reveal the horrific conditions suffered by a Scots pirate hunter in an Indian jail.
Billy Irving was detained three months ago along with five other Brits while helping to protect merchant shipping vulnerable to ruthless hijackers.
Tomorrow, the 33-year-old of Connel, near Oban, will find out if he will at last be freed on bail from Puzhal jail in the Indian city of Chennai.
But an account of the drama, written by one of Billy’s crewmates, reveals the squalid and degrading conditions in which the seamen are being held. It also reveals how Billy and his colleagues were tricked by Indian police, who told them they were being taken to hospital before locking them up in jail.
Billy’s father Jim has vowed to fly to India to try and secure his release. However, he has lost faith in those supposed to be helping his son.
Jim blasted: “We’ve been failed by his employers, AvanFort. We’ve been let down by the Foreign Office and we have no faith in the Indian legal system.
“If bail is refused again, I’ll have no choice but to travel to India and find out for myself what is going on. The only crime these men committed was to go to work. I have to do everything I can to get my son back as soon as possible.”
After being forced into port at gunpoint 86 days ago, pirate hunter Billy still has no idea of the charges he’s facing. The Sunday Post has obtained the only detailed account of what happened, penned in prison by an Estonian colleague of Billy.
On October 12 the US-owned MV Seaman Guard Ohio was intercepted in the Indian Ocean while heading for Egypt. A heavily armed Indian coastguard vessel escorted Billy and his colleagues to the port of Tuticorin. According to the document, armed soldiers were waiting on the quayside for their arrival.
They were then immediately boarded, searched, and warned they would “see the true colours” of the Indian police. For six days, further searches were carried out.
The detailed account reads: “When they asked for our documents again, we refused. They didn’t like it and promised to attack us if we didn’t hand them over. We then gave them to officers who were in charge on the dockside. They then told us they were going to take us to hospital for a check-up and then return us to our ship.”
Instead under armed guard, 21 of them were taken to a police station and thrown into a cramped cell in stifling heat. They were then individually taken out and forced to sign documents, which hadn’t been translated, and had their fingerprints taken. Next, they appeared in front of a judge who ordered they be imprisoned.
Since being locked up, the conditions have taken a dreadful psychological toll on the men. On October 24 the men were transferred 400 miles north to Puzhal Prison in Chennai, where they are still being held.
Four men were crammed into a filthy cell measuring just 3×4 metres, which included their toilet, and forced to sleep on the concrete floor. They have also been made to buy clean water using money put into a prison account by their employers.
The account continues: “Most of us have caught severe stomach conditions abdomen cramps, vomiting and weakness I’ve been hallucinating while sleeping.
“In this prison there are 3,000 prisoners. We are mixed with murderers, rapists, thieves and the rest of the scum. Sidearms and narcotics are circulating.
“I’m not surprised anymore when guards are beating people with bamboo sticks or if someone is taken to hospital with a slit throat.”
Billy’s dad Jim continued: “This has been a painful and frustrating period for all the families involved to endure. As details have emerged our concern has grown and we hope for a swift resolution.
“It is difficult to comprehend why this has happened and to imagine the conditions they are being kept in. It’s made worse by the fact we have no idea what charges they are facing.”
Billy was on his first deployment for American firm AdvanFort as a Tactical Deployment Officer. It was due to last two months. Their ship was detailed to protect merchant shipping from violent pirate gangs, and was returning to Egypt at the end of a deployment.
Jim says the family won’t stop until they have Billy home. Speaking from his home in France he said: “When we first heard what had happened we treated it as a bit of a joke, dreading him coming back and having to listen to his stories.
“But slowly the nightmare has unfolded. AdvanFort have provided little information, while dealing with the UK authorities has been frustrating to say the least. The situation has been compounded further by Billy being hospitalised as a result of the conditions. He’s lost two stones in weight.
“The only thing these men have done wrong is to go to work. It would almost be easier to accept if I knew they had done something wrong. There have been reports in India they’ve been involved in everything from gun running to human trafficking. These lies have hurt.
“Despite everything that has happened, their wages have not been paid, heaping more pressure on their loved ones. Both myself and Billy’s partner, Yvonne, are planning to head out to India. We have to do all we can to ensure this injustice isn’t allowed to drift on unnoticed, and pray it ends tomorrow.”
Also amongst those imprisoned is Mick Dunn, 27, from Ashington, Northumberland. His sister Lisa said: “He telephoned our mum and then me saying, ‘It’s absolutely nothing to worry about. This kind of thing sometimes happens as the authorities just like to check the documentation is in order. It’ll get sorted out.
“Mum’s taking it really hard. He’s her youngest child. The support is what’s getting us through it.”
Argyll MP Allan Reid said he’s encouraged by the most recent developments in India.
He said: “I’ve been in close contact with the Foreign Office. It was disappointed when a ruling to grant bail last week was overturned. I hope tomorrow it is better news.”
An on-line petition demanding William Hague take action on the banged up Brits has already reached over 40,000 signatures. The petition was launched by Billy’s girlfriend Yvonne MacHugh and hopes to secure 50,000. To sign it you can go to www.change.org.