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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Jailed Cumbrian soldier's fund off to flying start

Hundreds of pounds was donated within hours of a fund being set up to support six former British soldiers, including a Wigton man.

John Armstrong photo
John Armstrong

John Armstrong and five other ex-servicemen have been held in a prison in Chennai, India, for five months.

They are all said to have been security guards on board anti-piracy ship the Seaman Guard Ohio.

After months of being kept in appalling conditions, a judge on Thursday indicated he was likely to grant the men bail.

A further hearing on Wednesday is expected to see papers signed, pending bail being granted, and then the men are expected to be released a few days later.

Indian authorities have repeatedly claimed that the ship entered Indian waters without permission, and was illegally carrying weapons.

However, the American-based ship owner – AdvanFort – has always maintained it was invited in to escape a typhoon.

Mr Armstrong, who is believed to have served at least one tour of Afghanistan, was one of 33 crew members arrested and subsequently charged in connection with the incident.

The families of the Britons – including Mr Armstrong’s – have been campaigning to see the men freed.

A petition set up on the website change.org, calling on the Government to help secure their freedom, has received more than 146,000 signatures.

Representatives from some of the men’s families travelled to Downing Street last week to officially hand it over to David Cameron.

A fighting fund was also set up online, with the aim of “providing vital support for the six British seafarers in prison in India who deserve freedom”.

It is being overseen by the charity The Mission to Seafarers, which will ensure funds are properly accounted for and are allocated where they will most benefit the men.

Within 24 hours of being launched, the JustGiving website had already received more than £400 in donations.

A statement on the website states: “Any funds raised over and above what we really need will go to The Mission to Seafarers’ global welfare charity, to provide essential supplies, communications, prison-visiting and post-trauma counselling services to seafarers in distress in 71 countries worldwide.”

To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/yvonne-machugh

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