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Thursday, 31 July 2014

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David Cameron intervenes in case of Wigton man locked up in India

Prime Minister David Cameron has held talks with the Indian premier over the continuing detention of a Cumbrian man.

John Armstrong photo
John Armstrong

John Armstrong, from Wigton, is one of a number of former British soldiers who have been locked up in an Indian jail since October after they were arrested on board an American-owned ship.

Mr Cameron’s discussions with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh follow calls backed by an 86,000-signature petition for the British government to intervene in the case. It is not known by what form the negotiations have taken.

Mr Armstrong, son of a Wigton painter and decorator of the same name, was a security guard on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio when he was arrested and held in Puzhal Prison in Chennai.

Indian authorities detained 33 of the 35 crew members, although the exact reason for their arrest remains unclear.

Their patrol vessel operated by US maritime security firm AdvanFort, was intercepted by a heavily-armed Indian coastguard vessel in the Indian Ocean when heading for Egypt.

At the time of their arrest, Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh said the crew had failed to produce documents allowing them to carry weapons and ammunition in Indian waters.

Family and friends of the Britons had been holding out hope of an imminent release on bail. However, Indian newspapers reported in recent days that the police have filed a charge sheet.

It is unclear what charges they face. But the 2,158-page document names 45 people, including the owners of Advanfort – the company which owns the ship – plus all 35 crew members and five locals who helped supply diesel to the ship.

The petition addressed to Foreign Secretary William Hague reads: “These men have devoted their lives to protecting others, working in the Indian Ocean on anti-piracy operations.

“The men were resting on board the support vessel in between transits from client vessels, which they protect from pirate attacks.”

The Foreign Office is understood to be liaising with the Indian authorities.

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