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Guard finds tuneful way to help him in jail

A SCOTS anti-piracy guard who was arrested by Indian authorities and spent six months in jail has told how he passed the time in prison by playing a plastic bagpipe chanter.

Billy Irving, from Connel near Oban, was arrested in October along with 34 other men on suspicion of illegal possession of guns and ammunition after their American-owned ship allegedly entered Indian waters illegally.

The 33-year-old spent six months in Puzhal Jail in Chennai before being released on conditional bail last month. The former soldier said his girlfriend Yvonne MacHugh, who flew to India to be by his side and has campaigned for his release, had sent the chanter to the prison. "I've been playing the pipes since I was about five or six so you just play whatever comes into your head," he said. "I even wrote some new tunes, one for Yvonne called The Wee Half Pint, which is my nickname for her because she's only 5ft 2in, and one for my mum called A Tune for Maggie. Everyone in prison seemed to enjoy the playing. Other nationalities from the other compounds would come over and listen or even ask to play it."

Mr Irving said that his military background had helped him survive atrocious conditions in the Indian prison. He said three men shared a single cell and were left to sleep on a concrete floor. He was taken to hospital after losing 12kg in weight due to dysentery.

"We were fighting for food and water for the first few months," he added. "When we went to the doctor inside the prison for treatment he didn't do much - all he did was hand out pills. But my biggest worry was always how my situation was affecting my family and friends."

Ms MacHugh said: "I didn't think his bail was going to happen until I actually saw him step out of prison. That was brilliant and really emotional."

Since being bailed, Mr Irving, who had been working for US private maritime company AdvanFort since last July, is living in a hotel and has to report to a police station twice a day while he awaits trial. AdvanFort has argued it properly registered its weapons with Indian authorities.

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