Cumbrian ex-soldier beaten and wrongly imprisoned in mental hospital

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 John Armstrong
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John Armstrong

Beaten, tied to a bed and injected with unknown drugs: those are the shocking conditions endured by a Cumbrian man who says he was falsely imprisoned in an Indian mental institution.

John Armstrong is one of six Britons protesting his innocence from behind the bars of a Chennai prison.

For 15 months he and the others have campaigned for their freedom, enduring dirty, basic conditions and with little food.

He has suffered all of this quietly, however his treatment at the hands of medical professionals in the country has so outraged the 29-year-old and his family that they have had an official complaint lodged with the Indian authorities.

The Wigton man's account of his treatment is horrifying, as he recalls inmates and guards joining together to force him onto a prison bus against his will.

John's sister, Joanne Thomlinson, told the News & Star: "They dragged him on the bus.

"They took him to the institute of mental health in Chennai and put him in a cell - they have a convict's wing.

"John said plainclothed hospital staff came in and pinned him down. They tied a rag around his neck until he nearly passed out.

"They punched him and then injected him - but wouldn't tell him what with."

John woke the following day with his arms and legs tied to a hospital bed and with a drip in his arm.

They untied him the following day, and British embassy staff were able to visit him and bring a note out to his family.

Joanne, 31, was on holiday with her family in Disneyland Paris at the time.

"He wrote us a note to say not to worry about him," she recalled, emotionally. "He knew were going away and so he wrote 'Joanne, I really hope this hasn't ruined your holiday.'.

"We gauged pretty quickly that he was ok."

John, a former paratrooper, was diagnosed with psychosis and kept in hospital for 11 days.

He was later deemed 'cured' and is now back in the prison.

His family were later told that prison guards became concerned for his mental welfare because he spends his time walking, on his own, around the compound.

Joanne explained: "This is how John copes, how he has coped since the beginning. Walking passes the time, keeps him fit and exhausts him so that, whatever is going on, he can just sleep."

 John Armstrong senior

John Armstrong senior

His father, also called John and a well-known painter and decorator in their home town, flew to India two weeks afterwards to check on his only son, and reassure the family he was indeed ok.

The terrifying ordeal has left John unfazed - and Joanne said that is perhaps the hardest part.

"He is just resigned: he has had to endure so much, and he doesn't know when it will end. He has no choice, but to just accept.

"For us it was so difficult, because we are so helpless and he had to face it all on his own."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Foreign Office staff in India have been providing support to all six men since their arrest and are working to make sure their welfare is protected in prison.

"We are in regular contact with their families in the UK.

"We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved and we have taken significant action on this case.”

The News & Star understands that the FCO takes all allegations of torture or mistreatment very seriously and, if the victim consents, will request a full and independent investigation.


The six Britons - known as the Chennai Six - are among 35 men who were arrested on board the Seaman Guard Ohio off the Indian coast in October 2013.

They have always vehemently protested their innocence, insisting they were simply employees working for the American anti-piracy firm AdvanFort.

A major campaign has been underway in the UK, led by the families of the British men, all ex-soldiers, to call on the British Government to intervene and secure their freedom.

After six months in prison, without charge, the men were released on bail and the charges were eventually quashed.

An appeal by the country's police department meant the men were unable to leave the country, and eventually saw them stand trial in September 2015.

In January last year they were convicted of the illegal possession of firearms in Indian waters and sentenced to five years hard labour.

Closing speeches in an appeal against the conviction and sentence were heard at the end of November, but the judge deferred his decision until a date unknown.

Almost four months later they are still waiting to hear if it has been upheld, and they might finally be allowed home.

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