By Bilal Kuchay

SIX ex-British soldiers have finally been granted freedom from an Indian jail today after a four year battle for justice.

Appeal judges ruled Indian prosecutors had not proved the men, known as the ‘Chennai 6′, had been importing guns to terrorists after they were initially arrested by coastguards near the port of Thoothukudi in October 2013.

The group, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, have protested they were actually in an operation to protect ships from Somali pirates and were lawfully carrying the weapons.

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Today the Madurai Bench of the High Court acquitted the Brits and the 29 other members of the crew, including 12 Indians, 14 Estonians and three Ukrainians, from the Seaman Guard Ohio ship.

The court directed the men to apply to the authorities to get back their passports and be reimbursed for the 1000 rupees (£10) court fine.

It is still unclear when exactly they will be freed from their hellhole cells at the huge Puzhal Central Prison and there are fears the prosecution may appeal this decision.

The group were not in the hearing as Justice Basheer Ahamed told the packed court that he accepted the three appeal petitions.

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He said: “The trial court judgement is set aside and the ‘accused one’ to ‘accused 35’ are acquitted of the charges,

“The prosecution has failed to prove that the disputed ship was engaged in any of the activities prejudiced to peace, good order or security of the state.”

The judge also ruled it was not proved if the ship was actually caught in Indian waters.

He told the court: “The prosecution has produced a map pertaining to a location of the disputed vessel.

“But the location of the disputed vessel and the baseline is drawn with pencil on the map were not proved by the competent authority.”

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He also believed the ship never had any intention of visiting an Indian port because the captain was waiting for further instructions and to get provisions and fuel.

Justice Ahamed said: “It is proved in this case that the ship was anchored at the given place on account of distress for want of provision and fuel.”

“When the Indian Coast Guard questioned them over wireless, they didn’t hide the possessions of arms on the vessel and anchor was lifted only on the order of Indian Coast Guard.

“Further it was Indian Coast Guard which pirated the vessel from the out-post limit of Thoothukudi into the port.

“Hence the finding of the trial court that ‘Principle of Innocent Passage’ has been breached by the accused in the case is not correct.”

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A lawyer for the accused Indian men said: “It is a fair and right judgement which will have an impact at an international level. False cases were booked against the crews and guards but the Judge has disproved it.”

The court also made it clear that the arms seized from the ship were semi-automatic arms.

The men, who have 74 years of military service between them are Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland, John Armstrong, of Wigton, Cumbria, Ray Tindall, of Chester, Nicholas Simpson,  of Catterick, North Yorks, Paul Towers, of Pocklington, East Yorks and Billy Irving, of Oban, Scotland.

They had been caught with 35 firearms and 5,700 rounds of ammunition on board working for US firm AdvanFort but also had paperwork from the UK Government granting them permission.

Then held among 3,000 prisoners including rapists and murderers behind twenty-foot concrete walls in 50C temperatures, the group and families continued to lobby for their release.

The case was initially quashed in April 2014 but last year in a surprise move they were sentenced for five years in January 2016 by magistrates in Thoothukudi – 350 miles from Chennai – following an appeal by police. 

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