Six British seamen, including Nick Dunn from Ashington, have been released from prison after being acquitted by a judge in India.
Dubbed the Chennai Six, the men were part of a crew of 35 on board the anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio who were arrested by Indian authorities in October 2013 and then detained.
The charges were quashed in April 2014 when it was successfully argued that the weapons were lawfully held for anti-piracy purposes and the paperwork, issued by the UK Government, was in order.
But Indian police appealed the decision and the crew was jailed by a judge in January 2016.
The judge for the crew’s appeal ruled earlier today that all charges against the 35 men be dropped with immediate effect and the fines they were ordered to pay be refunded.
The Chennai Six have now been escorted out of Chennai Central Prison by British consulate officials, who said they were discussing the next step with the Indian authorities.
The campaign to request the Government to put more pressure on the Indian authorities over this case involved petitions and lobbying days in Parliament.
It included a number of high-profile supporters such as John Bowe, who plays Lawrence White in Emmerdale, and Charlie Lawson, who played Coronation Street bad boy Jim McDonald.
Nick’s sister Lisa Dunn said: “We’re absolutely elated and to get a full acquittal, which is the very least they deserve, just means the world to us.
“We’ve known from day one that the whole thing was a farce and that has been proven by the judge’s ruling.
“The campaign and media influence has enabled us to gain a lot of public support and helped to increase the pressure on our Government, as well as giving the men a boost.
“We’re grateful to everyone who backed the campaign and the support of individuals such as John and Charlie raised its profile to another level.
“However, it will only be over when Nick lands at Newcastle Airport.”
She added that as the Q Branch police in India have the option to appeal against the decision, the Government “must ensure that this police branch issues the necessary non-objection certificate as soon as possible so the men can return to the UK”.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery has raised the matter of the Chennai Six with the Foreign Office on a number of occasions and after hearing the news this morning, he wrote a letter to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
It includes the following: ‘I am writing to ask you to ensure your department does everything it possibly can to put in place the appropriate arrangements immediately to get these men home as soon as they are released.
‘They have been where they are for far too long and the least their families deserve is for there to be no delay in getting these men back on British soil.’
Mr Johnson issued the following statement this afternoon: “Since I became Foreign Secretary, this case has been a top priority for everybody at the Foreign Office and today’s verdict is fantastic news.
“The Foreign Office has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families. The importance the UK Government places on their case cannot be understated.
“The men, their families and their supporters, who have campaigned unrelentingly, must be overjoyed. I share their delight and I hope they can return home as soon as possible.”