Prime Minister Theresa May will raise with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi the issue of six former British soldiers lodged in a Tamil Nadu jail during her upcoming visit to India. A UK Foreign Office spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed to the families of the ex-soldiers sentenced for carrying arms on a commercial ship that the issue will feature in May’s bilateral talks during her three-day visit to New Delhi and Bengaluru starting this Sunday. “We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved and we have taken significant action on this case. The Prime Minister has been clear that she intends to raise it with Prime Minister Modi during her visit next week,” the
The Foreign Office also highlighted that the Indian-origin Foreign Office minister for Asia, Alok Sharma, had also “pressed for progress” on the issue during his first official visit to India in July, and again last month. Earlier this year, the then-Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire had traveled to India to meet the men personally. The Foreign Office said it continues to provide ongoing support to all six men and their families and is “working to make sure the men’s welfare is protected in prison”.
However, Lisa Dunn, the sister of Nick Dunn — one of the jailed men, said May must not “waste” all her time talking about trade deals while in India. “Theresa May has the power to end this now, and that’s what we want her to do. She cannot waste this opportunity face-to-face with Modi, she has six British men at her mercy, and can’t just waste it talking about her trade deals,” Dunn told BBC. “These were six British soldiers who served this country and they need help. It’s an absolute travesty if she fails to raise it. The power is in her hands and we’re begging her for help,” she said.
The men were arrested in 2013 among 35 crew members and sentenced by a Tamil Nadu court to five years in prison in January this year for carrying unlicensed firearms. An appeal has been lodged against their sentences, but a judge in Chennai ruled the men cannot be released on bail. They were held while working for an anti-piracy security company protecting commercial ships off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. All six men have consistently maintained their innocence. Joanne Tomlinson, the sister of another jailed ex-soldier– John Armstrong, said that while the men have had consular support from the Foreign Office, “we feel there is so much more they can do”.
“They have spent more than 18 months in prison now, and we feel there must be more diplomatic pressure that can be put on (India). Six of our veterans are imprisoned there. They should be speeding the legal process up,” she said. The men –- Dunn, Armstrong, Billy Irving, Ray Tindall, Paul Towers, and Nicholas Simpson — have been backed by more than 20 British MPs, including former British Premier David Cameron.