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Thursday, 25 December 2014

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Wigton ex-soldier could be freed from Indian jail within days

A former soldier who has spent five months behind bars in an Indian jail could be free within days.

John Armstrong photo
John Armstrong

Wigton man John Armstrong is one of six British ex-servicemen being detained in a Chennai prison. The men are among 33 crew members on board the Seaman Guard Ohio who were arrested in October.

Indian authorities claimed the ship had illegally entered the country’s waters and did not have the right permits to carry the weapons on board.

AdvanFort, the American anti-piracy company which owns the ship, has always maintained that it was invited into Indian waters to escape a typhoon.

Mr Armstrong, whose family lives in Wigton, was one of a number of armed security guards on board the ship, which protected other vessels from pirates. He is the son of painter and decorator John Armstrong, and is understood to have served at least one tour of duty in Afghanistan.

All of those arrested have been charged, but the families of the Britons have repeatedly had their hopes raised and then dashed at the prospect of the men being released on bail.

However, judges gave their final decision on the bail applications yesterday and it seems the men could be out of jail by the end of next week.

Details are still not officially confirmed, with reports from India that magistrates have “signalled” their intention to grant bail.

Unlike in the UK, bail papers now have to be signed off – a process expected to take place in the middle of next week – and then it will be several more days before the crew is released.

It is unknown what terms may have been imposed and whether Mr Armstrong and his fellow Brits will be required to remain in India.

The Mission to Seafarers, which has been supporting the men and their families, said it would not be making any statement until it could substantiate the court outcome and the implications of any bail terms.

The families of the men have launched a fighting fund to help support their loved ones, and the charity is going to help manage and supervise the fundraising campaign.

Mr Armstrong’s family has said it does not want to make any comment.

Representatives of the families handed over a 150,000-name petition calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to step in and do more to help the men at Downing Street this week.

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