Keep pressing for prison release

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.

It barely seems possible that Nick Dunn, former Ashington soldier and one of my Wansbeck constituents, is facing his fifth Christmas in the notorious Chennai prison in India for a so-called crime he did not commit.

Most readers will be familiar with the story of Nick and five colleagues who have been jailed for six years after being accused of illegally carrying weapons whilst working as guards on an anti-piracy ship.

Despite having all the necessary British government documentation allowing them to go about their work on board ship, the charges against them were accepted by the Indian judiciary and the six men are now incarcerated in the hell-hole that is Puzhal prison, along with some 3,000 other inmates.

Since they were jailed their families, who steadfastly believe that they are the victims of a scandalous miscarriage of justice, have campaigned for their release, and recently I joined them to hand in to Number 10 Downing Street a petition signed by more than 400,000 people supporting the men and calling for them to be brought home.

Many personalities and celebrities, including Prince Charles, his son Harry and the actress Joanna Lumley, have voiced their support for the men, but whilst Prime Minister Theresa May has personally raised their plight with her Indian counterpart, all efforts at diplomacy have failed.

But like the families – and here I pay a whole-hearted and sincere tribute to Nick Dunn’s sister Lisa for her resolute campaigning on behalf of her brother – I and many of my fellow MPs will continue to press their case until they are released from what must be a living nightmare.

In the absence of any movement by the Indian government all we can do is to keep pressing the Foreign Office to do what it can to obtain their release at the same time as keeping their plight in the media spotlight, and that is something we have pledged to do.