Angus MacPhail: Freedom and ferry launches

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My plan for a full piece about the launch of the latest addition to the CalMac fleet has been happily thwarted because of the brightest news to appear in the media in many months.

The MV Glen Sannox was blessed and put to sea with great applause last week, but superseding that great event is the news that Billy Irving from Connel and his fellow prisoners have been found not guilty, and will hopefully be home for Christmas. Accordingly, a full report on the CalMac launch will have to wait till next week.

As mentioned in my last article, the result of a lengthy appeal in the case of the Chennai Six was to be given on Monday this week. With the verdict having been scheduled for announcement at 5am on Monday it must have been a nerve-wracking wait for Yvonne MacHugh, Billy’s fiancee, and all the other family members.

However, around mid-morning the news came that the men had been
acquitted and that they would be coming home.

On the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, with stalwart morning broadcaster John Humphrys, Yvonne was being interviewed around 8am while still waiting for news of the verdict.

As she has done throughout this entire ordeal, she spoke with clarity,  dignity and passion about the unjust situation and her hopes for an end to it. Having been painfully disappointed so many times throughout this awful chapter, it came with overwhelming relief that the men had been found not guilty.

According to reports, there is still a chance that the Indian authorities will appeal against this decision and that must be a terrifying prospect which could potentially lead to many more months of delay and, of course, the dreadful risk of the verdict being overturned again.

I hope every back channel, front channel, official connection, unofficial connection, diplomatic and ‘undiplomatic’ pressure and any potential means of influence is being used by the British government and its representatives in India to block the chance of this potential counter-appeal being launched.

However, in the meantime, Yvonne and those others who have spent more than four years of their lives campaigning on behalf of the prisoners, can enjoy this momentous success.

It has been achieved through having the courage, belief and dogged determination keep fighting the case and all those involved are worthy of great praise for the efforts that have led to this resulting triumph. The men can look forward to the genuine prospect of their first Christmas at home for five long years.

There will be much rebuilding and recovering to be done in the times ahead and even in a best-case scenario, where the men will be home as hoped before Christmas, it will take many years for their lives to return to normal.

Billy Irving has lost four years of his life because of a ridiculous series of events outwith his control, allowed to escalate out of all conceivable proportions.

The scars left from a situation like this will not heal quickly, but at least that process, hopefully, can now begin.