First of Chennai Six says ‘excellent to be home’

The first of a group of British men nicknamed the Chennai Six, who were held on weapons charges in India, has returned home.

Billy Irving, from Argyll and Bute, landed at Glasgow airport this morning, having won his lengthy legal battle for freedom.

He told Sky News: “Massive thank you to everyone who supported me and the five others.

“It feels excellent to be home.”

He was one of six guards arrested for smuggling weapons but they have now received permission to leave India.

The others, including Nick Dunn, John Armstrong, Nicholas Simpson, Ray Tindall and Paul Towers, are expected back on Thursday.

Billy Irving

Image: Mr Irving was part of the Chennai Six

Mr Irving was greeted by family who made “Welcome Home, Billy” signs, and by two pipers who played as the 37-year-old walked out of the airport.

A cut and shave meant he looked quite different to the last photos of him while still in India.

In a statement given after the ruling, the six said: “After four long years, we, along with the 29 crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio, have been cleared by the Appeal Court. We want to thank the court for reaching this decision.

“We are all in good health and eager to return to our families and friends. Whilst we wait for permission to leave India and come home, we ask the media to respect our privacy and that of our families during this process.

“We want to thank our legal counsel, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and The Mission to Seafarers for helping us reach this point.

Billy Irving

Image: Billy Irving arrived home after his conviction was overturned

“We have been glad to receive the many messages of support and care packages during our time in prison, and ask for time to reflect on our experience and to prepare for home.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: “It is wonderful news that the men are returning to the UK.

“The Foreign Office has worked unstintingly on this case, lobbying on the men’s behalf, visiting them in prison, updating their families, and maintaining close contact with their legal team.

“I pay tribute to those who have campaigned for the men, who will be delighted to see them return home after being separated for so long.”

Supporters of the Chennai Six outside of Number 10 Downing Street. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Image: Supporters of the Chennai Six outside of Number 10 Downing Street. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The six men were arrested in October 2013 when the Indian Coastguard boarded their ship, the MV Sean Guard Ohio.

They were arrested for taking weapons into India’s waters, but the charges were quashed when the men showed their UK paperwork and argued they were carrying them for anti-piracy purposes.

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A lower court reinstated the charges and they were sentenced to five years in jail in January last year.

They have launched a series of appeals, finally getting success at the end of November.