THE fiancée and mother of an ex-soldier have joined forces to campaign for his release after he was sentenced to five years in an Indian prison.
Six British nationals have been imprisoned along with 29 others from Estonia, Ukraine and India who were on guards and crew on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, an anti-pirate ship working in Indian waters.
Valley at Work member and owner of The Idea Buro , Jessica Kemp, 37, from Rawtenstall, got engaged Ray Tindall via Skype on New Year’s Eve and had been expecting him home after the charges of having illegal and unlicensed weapons were quashed last July by the Indian High Court.
But when the men returned to court in India last Monday (January 11), far from coming home the judge found them guilty and sentenced them all to five years.
Tindall got chance to make a quick call to his fiancée, but has not been able to contact his family since.
The Christmas tree is still decorated in Jessica’s home and his present is still wrapped. Together with Tindall’s mum, Carole Edmonds, and the relatives of the other five nationals, she is determined to get him home.
“They can’t have him,” Kemp said. “I won’t let them. They can’t keep him, he is ours and they have no right.”
The families all met in Carlisle last Thursday (January 14) to plan the next steps. Alongside Tindall, the five other British nationals on the ship were Nick Dunn, of Ashington, Northumberland; Billy Irving, from Argyll; Paul Towers from Pocklington, North Yorkshire; John Armstrong from Wigton, Cumbria; and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire.
The relatives agreed to launch a co-ordinated campaign and already have more 300,300 signatures on an online petition on change.org, which calls for their release.
“They are 100 per cent innocent,” said Jessica. “They were carrying out a professional job working for shipping lines and we are appealing to Prime Minister David Cameron to raise this matter with the Indian Prime Minister.
“We are appealing for people to write a personal letter to their MP to ask them to back our campaign. We already have backing from Paddy Ashdown.
“We are raising funds to help them fight the Indian judicial system. We were thinking it could cost between £200,000 to £250,000 but now they are talking about a million. If you have signed the petition we would be grateful if you would also donate £1 towards the appeal; it is less than the cost of a lottery ticket.
“We have had legal representatives check the transcripts of the judge’s summation and statements and we believe they have misinterpreted Maritime Law.”
The men are currently housed in Puzhal Prison in Chennai where Ray is with 23 men housed in a 10ft by 15ft cell. They sleep on a floor, are not allowed to wear shoes and the sanitation is a hole in the floor. The families want their loved ones out of jail as soon as possible because the conditions breach their human rights.
Carole, 60, from, Hull, said: “He had been working in India since July 2013 and then he went to work on the anti-pirate ship.
“In October 2013 they were asked to come into port and as soon as they arrived the Indian police stormed the boat and arrested everyone on board. They put them in jail for six months before we were able to get them bail.
“Our priority now is to get them bail and get them out of that prison.”
Ray, from Chester, has a six-year-old daughter and was a army sniper and Sergeant in the 1st Battalion Royal Welsh and the 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment. He served in Ireland during the troubles, in Afghanistan and Bosnia.
Jessica has set up a Facebook page to co-ordinate the fight and publicity.
The families are being helped by the Mission to Seafarers and Prisoners Abroad.
“We sent each other 45,000 messages through Facebook in a year,” said Jessica.
“We celebrated New Year’s Eve together, via Skype, and he helped me choose presents for my children through Skype.
“He also asked me to marry him; I now want to be able to meet him at the airport so that he can propose again officially.”
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “Our staff in India and the UK have been in close contact with all six men since their arrest to provide support to them and their families, including attending court. Ministers have also raised this case at the highest levels, pressing for delays to be resolved.
“We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved. There is now a 90 day window to appeal and we will continue to provide consular assistance. However, we cannot interfere in another country’s judicial process.”
To view the petition go to Change.org
To join the Facebook fight join the group – Help Ray Tindall in India Get Home to the UK.