After ‘four years of hell’, Nick Dunn is looking forward to spending Christmas with his family for the first time since 2012.
The Ashington man was part of a crew of 35 on board the anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio who were arrested by Indian authorities in October 2013 and then detained.
The charges were quashed in April 2014, but Indian police appealed the decision and this meant that the crew had to stay in the Asian country. They were then jailed by a judge in January 2016.
The British men on board were dubbed the Chennai Six and the efforts to request the UK Government to put more pressure on the Indian authorities over this case involved petitions and lobbying days in Parliament. Nick’s sister Lisa Dunn was among the leading campaigners.
The judge for the crew’s appeal ruled on November 27 that all charges against the 35 men be dropped with immediate effect and the fines they were ordered to pay be refunded.
And after getting the required documents, Nick arrived at Newcastle Airport last Thursday morning.
The 31-year-old said: “I didn’t sleep the couple of days before and after being released from prison. I was on cloud nine floating like a butterfly.
"It’s wonderful to know that I will be with my family this Christmas.
“Before my release, I last saw Lisa and my dad Jim on my birthday in March, but I had not seen my mum, Margaret, and brother Paul for four years.
“The support of so many people for me and my family was absolutely amazing and it really helped as I went through four years of hell.
“We had letters from all over the UK and countries such as the USA and Australia and reading comments online from random people made me even more determined not to give up.”
Nick described the scene as ‘bedlam’ when the personnel representing the Indian authorities came on board in October 2013 and after being detained on the ship for six days, the crew was taken to Chennai Central Prison 2.
“The captain should have been the only one arrested or questioned, but it was a planned seizure exercise and so why settle for one when you can have 35?” he said.
“We spent five-and-a-half months in Chennai Central Prison 2 and the conditions there were awful – even worse than Chennai Central Prison 1, where we were held after being jailed in January 2016.
“It looked like our ordeal was over when the charges were quashed in April 2014, but we were unable to leave India.
“Although the authorities had the right of appeal, under Indian law, we should have received our passports so we could go back to the UK and our Government should have made this happen.
“When it came to the trial, even though the weapons were properly licensed and modified so they were not automatic, the judge ignored this and referred to the design phrasing for the weapons.
“He also referred to the re-issue date, even though the original issue date was in the paperwork and well before the time of our arrival in Indian waters.
“When we were wrongfully convicted, my military training kicked in and I quickly got into a routine.
“We made our own gym and used bricks, tree branches and bed sheets to create some makeshift weights, and I also read books and did puzzles.
“Our appeal was lodged in November 2016, but after six months we were still getting nowhere and the appeal judge then said the case was too complex to handle.
“I think the campaign really helped to put the pressure on and eventually an instruction came down from a high level that the judge must make a decision by the end of November.
“It all happened so quickly after the ruling. It was amazing to be free the next day and to get the full acquittal was no less than we deserved after what we went through.
“I’m so grateful to everyone for their support, especially Lisa who worked tirelessly on the campaign.
“Over the last few days, people in Ashington have been shocked at first sight as they think they recognise my face, but once I tell them it’s me, they’ve said how pleased they are that I’m home.”
Lisa added: “We were promised that if the verdict went our way, the UK Government officials in India would do everything they could to ensure that the men got a speedy release and back home as soon as possible.
“They kept this promise, although I think the growth of the campaign over the last 18 months put extra pressure on the Government to right the wrongs of 2014.
“The feelings I had seeing Nick as a free man in India were incredible, but they were even stronger when he arrived back at Newcastle Airport.
“The support we’ve had locally helped to keep us all going. People were not behind Nick, they were by his side.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery raised the plight of Nick and the other members of the Chennai Six in Parliament on many occasions.
He said: “I am delighted to see Nick Dunn returned home to Ashington given that Nick’s family, along with the other families of the Chennai Six, have been through hell and back over the past four years.
“From day one, I have joined them in their fight for justice in Parliament and back home in Wansbeck. I have seen first-hand the commitment and dedication of Nick’s family to bring him home.
“The on-going support of local residents and the celebrations we have seen since Nick’s return are testament to the strong community spirit that I have been proud to see in action within my constituency from the very start of the campaign to free Nick and the rest of these lads.”