Chennai Six: Britons begin their return to the UK

John Armstrong (R) gestures next to colleague Nick Simpson (C) as they leave prison in ChennaiImage copyright
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John Armstrong gives a thumbs up as he and Nick Simpson, centre, leave prison in Chennai

Six former British soldiers have started their return to the UK, more than four years after they were jailed in India on weapons charges.

The so-called Chennai Six, who had been guards on a ship to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean, won an appeal against their convictions last week.

They were jailed in October 2013 after being charged with smuggling weapons and ammunition.

Billy Irving, from Argyll and Bute, is expected to be the first to return.

The others – Nick Dunn, John Armstrong, Nicholas Simpson, Ray Tindall and Paul Towers – are expected to arrive in the UK on Thursday.

The Chennai Six: What is their story?

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “wonderful news” and added the men’s families and campaigners would be “delighted to see them return home after being separated for so long”.

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Family photo

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Billy Irving was quick to show his delight after his release from prison

The men were working on the anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by the US-based company AdvanFort, when they were arrested in 2013.

They were held along with three Ukrainians, 14 Estonians and 12 Indians when customs officials and police found weapons and ammunition on board, which Indian authorities said had not been properly declared.

Who are the Chennai Six?

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(From top left, clockwise) Nick Dunn, Paul Towers, Nick Simpson, Ray Tindall, John Armstrong and Billy Irving

Nick Dunn from Ashington, Northumberland

Billy Irving from Connel, Argyll

Ray Tindall from Chester

Paul Towers from Pocklington, East Yorkshire

John Armstrong from Wigton, Cumbria

Nicholas Simpson from Catterick, North Yorkshire

Initially the charges were quashed when the men argued the weapons were lawfully held for anti-piracy purposes and the paperwork, issued by the UK government, was in order.

However, in January 2016 they were sentenced to five years in prison after a lower court reinstated the prosecution.

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