Dec. 1, 2021

Nick Dunn, British citizen and former British Army soldier previously held in India, Part 2 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Nick Dunn, British citizen and former British Army soldier previously held in India, Part 2 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Nick Dunn is a British citizen and a former British Army Parachute Regiment soldier. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. After leaving Her Majesty’s Forces, he continued to work in security. Nick was working as an armed security guard onboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio in October 2013 alongside another 5 British former Army soldiers when he and the other members of the crew and guards were arrested by the Indian coast guard. They were wrongfully imprisoned in India for 4 years. Nick and these other 5 Brits were collectively known as the Chennai 6.

This week’s episode is part two of our three-part interview with Nick Dunn himself. On this episode, Nick talks about using his military training to survive prison, the Chennai 6 make an appeal, their case goes to the Indian Supreme Court, judgement day, getting acquitted, leaving prison and the journey back home to his family waiting for him at Newcastle airport.

If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube

For more information on Nick Dunn, please check out the following:

  • Our previous episode: Ep 15

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Nick Dunn, British citizen and former British Army soldier previously held in India, Part 2 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy  


Daren Nair, Nick Dunn


Daren Nair: 

Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. I'm Daren Nair. Nick Dunn is a British citizen, a former member of the Parachute Regiment within the British Army, and he was wrongfully detained in India for four years. Nick was held with another five British ex-army soldiers, and collectively, they were known as the Chennai Six.
 This is part 2 of Nick's story. On last week's episode, Nick talked about his arrest, what it was like to be held in an Indian prison, being granted bail, and thinking he was just two days out from coming home, only to be shocked and heartbroken when he was sentenced to another five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. If you haven't already, please do listen to last week's episode. Now Nick, tells us what happened next.
 Nick Dunn: 

The best way to deal with prison life is to get yourself into a routine while you're still healthy. This deteriorates, but that can...
 Daren Nair: 

Just to clarify, we're on a podcast. Nick was pointing to his body. The body deteriorates, but the mind needs to stay strong, is what you're basically saying?
 Nick Dunn: 

Yeah, you can be ill, starving, your mind can suppress these feelings, but who tells the mind? You've got to get yourself into a routine. This is where my military training kicked in. Right, where am I going to live? Bed sheets, right, I'm going to stay in that corner of that room, right. There we go. Boom.
 Trying, get your orientation around the compound. Right, [(2:00)] where's the toilets, right, where's the kitchen? Try to find where's the hospital. What do we get allocated? Do we have a prison shop? We were getting kindly donated by Prisoners Abroad every three months or so for money so we could use in the prison shop with the help of the embassy. The prison shop guy would go out to normal shops. He would get us shampoo because my hair started growing and I needed to keep it clean and dry, free, which didn't happen, porridge, just little bits of niff-naff and trivia, a bit of fruit just to keep you healthy.
 You get more allocation once you've been convicted, than you were in the remand because the remand is only supposed to be temporary, short, so they don't care. Even though some people have been in there two years. Two year, temporary, okay. If you still haven't convicted someone in two years, it's probably because they're innocent or you're just messing them about.
 When I've seen pictures of me coming out of the first prison, to me coming out of the second prison. Yes I still lost the same amount of weight. For six months and two years there's a difference. I lost 10 kg, which a lot of people might think isn't a lot, but when you do it in an unhealthy way and not gradually like I did in the two years. [(4:00)] Taking the first prison, I was sent to prison two to send to prison one, two different times, both hellish conditions, same conditions, just the second time when we got convicted, they put us all in one big prison cell. It was all 23 of us, all on top of each other and spaced out as best as we could, but we all have our habits, good, bad, you name it, hygiene levels, you name it.
 As time gets on, nothing's happening, tensions rise, people argue, people squabble, you get the gist. They gave us another cell. We split personnel down, and I went from upstairs down to downstairs. Then, even they started fighting, so they got another cell upstairs. For 23 guys, we were split between three cells all in one compound obviously.
 People could interact with each other, but living with each other, 24/7, was a bit difficult for some. I don't blame them. I honestly don't. I didn't want to be there as much as they didn't want to be there. I missed my home just as much as they did. However, you've got to try your best to keep it together, because you don't know, yes, you do know how long you're going to be here, five years. I had my mindset right, five years.
 I would have just been getting out of prison, January this year. Mental, when you look at it that way, I'm so thankful and so grateful I got out when I did. I am [(6:00)] very grateful. I wish it was as easy as straightforward to how we got out, but it wasn't. There was a lot of other things happening.
 Took a man to nearly die. In reality, the captain he had bone cancer. But he was a bit of an actor, "I'm dying, I'm dying oh, oh." He used to do this all the time, and the prison guards would just laugh at him. He actually was dying, but he was given medication. Because, honestly, he looked bad. He just looked like a skeleton walking around with a sheet of skin on him. He was bad, and he was in his late 60s, this captain. He was horrible. We all lost a hell of a lot of weight as well. Some people didn't. Just mental, but never mind.
 The second prison it was a lot better, I would say, on the grand scheme of things, than the first one. Didn't want to be there, but I had to accept that I was there. I had to get myself into a routine, arm's length. You've got to build some sort of rapport with certain prisoners because they know what they can get that you might want, it comes at a price.
 People say, "Oh wait, I wouldn't do that." Have you been in a prison? "No," then you wouldn't know. I'm sorry but needs must when you're in prison. I didn't want to, but as time went by, I was like, you know what, to hell with this. [(8:00)] Yeah, I rang my family, but it was brief. It was just to give relevant information that we just heard there and then. Didn't speak to my dad, didn't speak to my mom, just spoke to my sister and my girlfriend now and again.
 The phone wasn't mine. I got my girlfriend to top it up from outside so I could have my fair share and it was only used on emergency only. Other a people who have the phone they did whatever. It doesn't bother me. If we got information, I wanted to tell my family there and then, simple as that. Because there was prison phones and I could ring my lawyer, and I could ring my girlfriend, but it was one 10-minute call every 10 days. If we got information in them 10 days, I'd have to use some sort of communication.
 Daren Nair: 

How did you get the phone?
 Nick Dunn: 

Well, I didn't personally go and get it. There's Indians who have one, and Nigerians, they had it, just help-me-help-you kind of thing, give them something they want.
 Daren Nair: 

I understand you were bartering with Indian cigarettes. Is that right?
 Nick Dunn: 

Yeah, bidis. To get one lighter, it was three packs of bidis. Then it went to five because people were getting caught. As we know and we've witnessed supply and demand, you want it, you pay for it whether you like it or lump it, you might do it. I smoked in prison, you got to do something else to try and keep your head, keep some thoughts away. I read books, I did dot-to-dot I did fitness. [(10:00)] We built our own little Flintstone gym. I went running around. I did, on the day of the Great North Run, one year, in 2017, I ran from inside the prison. Because my sister needed a bit of spurring on because she had an ankle niggle and I made a promise to her, so I ran around this, inside of the prison, 27 times, which accumulated to 13 miles. It's close to a half marathon as best as possible.
 Daren Nair: 

You were running this half marathon in 40 degrees Celsius heat?
 Nick Dunn: 

Well, it was 30 degrees the time I finished. That wasn't even nine o'clock in the morning. I was like that 30 degrees, oh, it's just going to kill us. It was an experience. It's another test. It was to see how far you can push yourself mentally. Because my physical fitness was fine. It was that, that I had to keep, when you feel like you're tired, you need to go that extra step. That tells the body to keep going or stop, but sometimes you do have to listen to your body. You've got to keep your head above water, so to speak. You got to keep mentally pushing. Every day, it was a challenge. Every day sometimes was Groundhog Day. Every day was, are we closer to the finish line? Yes, was the answer. That's how you look at it. That's how I looked at it. That's how a few guys looked at it. You're one day closer to the five years.
 Yes, it's crap, but as soon as we got in that prison, boom, right, we need to get an appeal in [(12:00)] straight away. We weren't messing around, straight on to the lawyer, come and save us and it became difficult because there was court closures, court strike, lawyer strike and you were like, oh my. Three months, of nothing. Lawyer strikes. I was like, what? Lawyers going on strike, and no court's happening in India? Am I reading this correctly? How does that happen? How? Mental. To this day, I've asked UK lawyers, can that actually happen in the UK? They go, "No, they'll just lose their job because we can't close the courts. They can have their recess for say, Christmas Day, or New Year's Day or something, but you don't close." Well, they did with COVID and all that. But normal times, no. In India, they did. That delayed, I think that lasted three months or something. That was three months of nothing. That's three months of people getting more angry, more frustrated, more upset, homesick. Three months.
 To some, it's not too bad. What we had to endure was, the days felt like weeks the weeks felt like months and so on and so on and it was only three months. Then it was back on. We're back on we get dates, and then, "Oh, we need more time." I'm like, what do you mean you need more time? You've nearly had four years of our life. How much more time do you people need? "Okay, two weeks, then we'll go." I'm like, we're present." [(14:00)] and correct, paper work good to go, and the prosecution turned up and go, "Oh we need more time," and the judge grants it? If I remember, we argued and said, hear our side of the story. I think we did ours and then we had to wait until they were ready and they did and then obviously, yeah.
 The judge decided to not make a decision and dragged it out for nearly a year, right. We're in prison and, like I say, I'm laughing about that now, we weren't laughing at the time. That's one year. Three months of court closures was bad enough. One year, nearly, just to make a decision on my and the other guys' freedom. One year, nearly. We are pushing the lawyer, and our lawyer is like, because the way they act in India, to how they act in the UK, is totally different like I mentioned with the castes and you can't... We're like, hang on a minute, you're a high-ranking lawyer, the judge is refusing to make a decision. Surely, you can go to Chief Justice who's in charge of the courts in Tamil Nadu, and say, "What's going on? Can you intervene?"
 Yeah, that happened and the judge turned around and went, "Oh, I can't do this anymore. I can't do it." With the help of the British [(16:00)] High Commission, they had a meeting with the Chief Justice, unofficial, but paper work was put in, officially. She said, "You will do this. You will make a decision." They then created a mini-trial within, because a year had gone by, it was just a refresher of everything. Not that we needed refreshing of anything. We've been waiting for four years. We've done nothing wrong. You are to prove us that we've done something wrong, and yet you can't. You just keep putting delay tactics in front. Very frustrating and it gets you angry. Gets you sad as well, because you think, when is this going to end?
 We then got told that it's still getting delayed. Our lawyer and her team used the captain to get released on medical grounds, to die in hospital so his family from the Ukraine could come up. That went to the first court, out, High Court. We're in the High Court, it went higher. His case went to the Supreme Court. Who heard his case? The grandest judge of all of India. Mister Chief Justice himself. Guess what he said? This is an interpretation obviously. From what we were told, [(18:00)] he went, "Why are you still in my country?" Our lawyers went, "Well, your Honour, if you look at the High Court, he's been pissing about for one year. Will you tell him to make a decision, please? I want to go home." Something like that. He didn't care about his health he just went, "Look, take this to the High Court, I want a decision within a week or two weeks. I want the court decision to be made. This has gone on long enough."
 One week, we got given that date, the 27th of November 2017, judgment day, the end. I knew it was the end. I knew it was the end because you've got the Supreme Court saying, " Make a decision to the High Court." If the High Court says no, guess where our case is going? To the Supreme Court. It was a no-win situation for them, but it was a win-win chicken dinner for us. But, you had to be realistic. Some of the guys were very sceptical, and I totally understand that, I really do. But, me, I was buzzing.
 I was happy, I was on, boom let's go. It's over. It's drawing to a close now just how long is it going to take from getting that decision to getting on that plane? How long? We were just going off, say, bail, but bail is a bit more complex than just releasing someone. You do your sentence, kick them out, ta rah bye. Bail, you need [(20:00)] to make sure they're not going to escape. Bail bonds, blah blah blah, assurances. Yes, I was in the gym, outside in the gym around tea-time ish. There's I think about 40 cases in that court. Guess who was the last? Us.
 I'm outside, and the guys they went down to the superintendent to ring the lawyer and find out what's going on. Because they rang earlier that day and she says, "Well, we're still waiting to get seen. We're quite far down the list. It's not our turn yet." Well, you knew we aren't going to be the first on the bloody list. They are going to take the piss. We were last. The decision came. One of the guys came to the barred window, and you could tell in his voice he was, mixed emotions, happy, crying, you name it. He was like, "Donny, Donny." I say, what?. "Case acquitted. It's over." I was like, see, I told you, I bloody told you.
 Then it hit us, I went, oh, felt like someone just went past and went boom in my stomach. Just punched us in the stomach. I felt weak. My knees started to shake a bit, my head just went boom. It just blew up, I was thinking, Jesus, what's going on? I was happy, and I was like, right, compose myself. I've not finished my workout. I tried to pick up some mini flag stones. Then I was doing some exercise and my mind just was all over. I went, oh, [(22:00)] I've had away with this. I can't. I sacked that. I walked around the compound into our cell, and the people were jubilant. They were so happy, but remained skeptical, like, "It's not over yet." We've just been given the best news, ever, but we're still in prison."
 The night before judgment day, we didn't sleep because we were anticipating. That night of the judgment, we never slept. I personally didn't. As soon as that door was opened at six o'clock I nearly knocked a prison guard over, I had to get out, go to the gym to tire myself out.
 While I was out training, I'm walking around between me sets around the compound and I caught one of the Brit guys, I said, where are you off to? He goes, "Oh, I've been summoned by the superintendent." I was like, all right. Tell him I said, hello. Then obviously, a bit later on, a repeat, but he was coming in the compound. I was walking round I said, what's the crack? What's fatty said, our superintendent? That's where he went, "Embassy is coming at 11:00 o'clock, get your shit ready." I went, what? He says, "The embassy is coming to get us, get your shit together." It felt like someone had just kneecapped me, but not in a proper kneecapping, a good feeling.
 I was like, my knees just gave way. I was just like, wow. [(24:00)] It's starting to feel really like mixed emotions. Like, does my family know? Does my family know yet? These are the things that's going through my head. I thought, oh, and I just had memories of the last time we got told we were getting released, and it was all a joke by the jailer, in this previous prison. I was like, I'm not pissing about here I'm just going to wait. I went and got a wash. Had some food. Everyone's running around like headless chickens packing bags and stuff like that from whatever items they've got. I just gave quite a lot to the Indians. You can have all that I didn't need it, only my porridge and my washing gown. I'm just grabbing what I've got and I'm away me. Like I said, the picture where I've got the white T-shirt, that's the day I, that's exactly how I looked the day I got out of my prison and checked in to the Radisson Blu Hotel.
 Some comfort, but the feeling of being told and then we came down to the main entrance, the High Commissioner from New Delhi was there, the Deputy High Commissioner was there, the Embassy girls were there, Superintendent she came in. I think the Director of Prisons was turning up. It was real. We were have a bit of a crack with the Deputy High Commissioner, Barack Joshi, at the time. He was just like, "How does it feel?" I said, "Get me on that bloody plane, I'll tell you how I feel." I just wanted [(26:00)] to get out of that prison now.
 Yeah, we went from the prison to the Embassy. I rang my sister because that's the only mobile number I could remember off heart. There must have been a delay because she just didn't recognize my voice. I said, it's me. She went, "Who?" I went, me, I'm out. I'm at the Embassy. She was screaming, and she went, "I'm on the way to the airport. I'll see you soon." My dad just literally driving her so they obviously got told the news before us.
 You can see on the public domain when my family gets given the good news, it came via a text because it was so easier for the lawyer to just send everyone a text, for quickness, than ringing everyone. Yeah, they got the good news, and my sister was like, her friends were like, "Get him, get to that airport now?" Yeah, I finally got to the hotel, which wasn't too far from the Embassy, and the Visa. I'm in the vicinity of where I need to be to do my final paperwork before leaving India. It was such an amazing feeling being out, but I knew it wasn't over in my head till I touched down in Newcastle.
 That's when I knew it was over. Because even if I stop at Dubai, I know something mad could happen while I was there. [(28:00)] Something mad did happen while I was at Dubai. I couldn't get a bloody internet signal. It's like everyone got in touch with all the internet places in Dubai airport and said, "Don't let him connect."
 I didn't know what was going on. I was like, I'm by myself here at Dubai Airport, I've not slept in nearly a week, I'm hugging this Americano, and I've got matchsticks in my eyes to keep, because I said, if I fall asleep and miss my flight, that's going to go down well, isn't it. Nick Dunn released but misses his flight because he was that tired. I managed, like, a four-hour flight from Chennai to Dubai is a six-hour lay-off, followed by a seven-hour flight. I haven't slept in a week. I was to scrape off the floor, I was like, I'm going to sleep for about two weeks here, I'm knackered.
 But I'm running on adrenaline, I'm running on fumes, but I'm so excited. Then when I get, finally on that plane to Newcastle from Dubai, that's when it hits. I've got a long flight, so I was just watching films. When the captain says, "We're entering Newcastle airspace, can you make your way back to your seats etcetera." I was literally about to zonk. Then once I heard him say that, you would have thought somebody had just put a new battery in us. I was up, stood up, well sat up in my chair, and I was just full of beans. I was just so happy. I was like, and I'm looking out the window, and I can see home, and I was like, green fields, and part of the neighbouring town where I live, where the planes [(30:00)] come from the coast on the route to the airport. I could see all that, I was like, my hearts jumping, but I'm feeling sad as well.
 Because I've been waiting for this moment all my life, and now it's reality, and now it's hitting us. The reality is, for me to get this freedom, it's cost me four years of my life, wrongly. No innocent man should ever lose a day of his life of freedom. Never mind four years. For those people who've done so many years more than me, and it turned out they were innocent all along, how the hell do they keep it together? I will not understand, because it was tough for four years. Imagine, say at 25, 30, 40 years-plus,
 I think when I was in prison, we read about that American guy who lost 40 years of his life, and he was innocent. I'm like, 40 years of his life. How do you survive that when you get out of prison? Mad. But coming home was a very magical time for me. It's what I've been thinking of every night before going to sleep. It was everything I'd been waiting for and hoping for, for four years. It's now happening The airport staff at Newcastle airport was absolutely fantastic. Absolutely they looked after me, even the flight steward on Emirates, I thank them. They looked after me as well.
 But it was [(32:00)] a very hard thing to do. Getting off that plane for starters, I've gone from 30-degree heat to 5, so I'm freezing. I'm like that, shivering. Reality check, it's cold. It's December, I'm in the UK. I'm not in Southern India where it's nice and hot. There's my reality check straight away, when I get off the plane. I've got a bag and try and back clap them when I'm walking down the steps, saying, "Welcome home."
 I got picked up at the airport by the airport staff. They take us to the carousel. The baggage handlers must have jumped on the plane to find my bag because my bag was sat there waiting before everyone else's has come on the carousel. Absolutely unbelievable. Such amazing touch that they did that. I'll never forget that.
 Then, I got escorted to the doors, and she turned around, and looked at me and went, "This is for you only," and she left. I'm stood with these doors I have no idea what's on the opposite side. The day I've been waiting for four years has now become the hardest thing I've had to do in four years. People must think, "Nick, how do you say that? I would have just burst through them doors." I said, it wasn't as easy as that. I was shit-scared. I was scared. I've just lost four years of my life. I've been in India, a total way of life to my normality of UK life, and I'm coming back, and I'm facing the unknown.
 I built up the courage, and I go to stand [(34:00)] and I freeze and I'm like, I can't do it. Then this guy comes to the side, opens the door for us, and I see all the media down the right-hand side. My family and friends and people on the left-hand side. I'm like, lost for words. Then they shut the gate and I'm like, right, compose myself. They haven't seen us they didn't see us. Right, let's try again.
 I'll go again, and the doors open because another guy is walking and I have to start and move because my dad recognizes. He says, "He's there," to my sister. "He's there." Honestly, you'll see me and my sister when you see the video, it's like two magnets colliding. Four-year nightmare comes to an end. The first time I've seen my mum in four years, after her double aneurysm, in a wheelchair. It would have just broke me. The happiest moment of my life, but it cost me four years. That's the reality of things. That's what's still raw, that's what still hurts. That's the reality of life. That's the reality of someone who's, being innocent and had four years stripped for nothing.
 Just to see your friends and family welcome you home was just magical. The airport was fantastic. How the media dealt with things were fantastic. They weren't your typical [(36:00)] media where they're all over. They were being very good.
 Right, what do I do now? I'm home. What do I do? That was an experience there was the local biker gang, and they escorted us home. They were blocking off all the cars at roundabouts so we could just have a free pass. It was amazing. I'm sat in the back of this car on the way back home, and it's so quiet. I'm thinking, you wouldn't get this in India, quiet, in India, never. It's full of noise. But it was just one experience to another. From being in India, where it's so fast-paced, so busy, and loud, to being in the UK, it's quiet and it was just a dream.
 I haven't touched the floor yet. I was still on cloud nine. I was like, this is really happening? Am I home? I had to pinch myself a few times. It was just, it's hard to explain how I really felt at that time. I can say I'm on cloud nine. I'm buzzing, I'm so happy, but they are just pretend. The feeling, it's wordless. I can't describe the feeling. [(38:00)] It's a good feeling, obviously, but I can't describe it. You just had to be in my shoes.
 Where if you watch the video, on me coming back, and you can't take something from that, what it means to a family that their nightmare is over, then I don't think you've got a soul. It brought a lot of people together. Their support for not just me, but for all of us, was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. Without their support, I would have struggled ten times more. Even receiving letters and parcels from random people around the world, as far as Australia, Canada, France, unbelievable. America, different parts of the UK. These people they made the difference. They got me through it.
 Daren Nair: 

Now, to find out what happens when Nick comes home, listen to the final part of Nick Dunn's story next Wednesday. Nick talks about what it was like to be back home, as well as the consequences of ignoring his post-traumatic stress. Even heroes need to call for backup sometimes, and this is what Nick does, eventually. We also discussed what the British government can do better to prevent this from happening to other British citizens overseas. Thank you for listening to Pod Hostage Diplomacy and take care.