British citizen, Nick Dunn is a former British Army Parachute Regiment soldier who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. After leaving Her Majesty’s Forces, he continued to work in security. In October 2013, Nick was working as an armed security guard onboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio alongside another 5 Brits who were also former British Army. Their mission was to protect the vessel from Somali pirates. A week later, Nick, the other guards and the crew were all arrested by the Indian coast guard and 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 the final part of our three-part interview with Nick Dunn himself. Many people have heard Nick’s story up to the point he came back home to the UK and was reunited with his family. Unfortunately, that’s when Nick’s real struggle began. Nick speaks to us about the consequences of ignoring his post-traumatic stress and gives us advice on mental health based on his own experience. We also discuss the support that Nick and the rest of the Chennai 6 received from the British government, journalists and the public.
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:
Get the latest updates on hostage cases we at Pod Hostage Diplomacy are working on including new episodes by subscribing to our fortnightly newsletter, the Hostage Briefing. Subscribe here.
You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.Support the show
Nick Dunn, British citizen and former British Army soldier previously held in India, Part 3 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, Nick Dunn
Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. I'm Daren Nair. I've campaigned to free hostages and the unjustly detained for almost six years now. A family member of a hostage once told me that "the real struggle starts when you come home."
When you're in captivity, you are in survival mode, you have adrenaline and stress hormones flowing through your body, and you are focused solely on getting through the day. When you come home, however, you start to think about everything else. Everything you missed, everything you will never be able to get back. That's when the real struggle begins.
Nick Dunn is a British citizen and 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 three of Nick’s story. If you haven't already, please do listen to parts one and two, where Nick talks about his arrest in India, his wrongful imprisonment, being granted bail and then just when he thought things were about to be over, Nick and the rest of the Chennai Six were sentenced to another five years in prison. After being wrongfully imprisoned in India for four years, Nick was acquitted and he finally came back home to Newcastle in England. This is when his real struggle began. Nick tells us more.
Because I cannot do it alone. I have gone past my army level. I have gone through so many mental walls, I lost count. I was at my end. I said to myself, "That's it! [(2:00)] If we don't get out soon, that’s it, how can I do it? I'm only human. We have a limit." I'm still wondering what my limit is. But it's affected me to get to that limit, to this day, it's mentally affected me.
I didn't want to admit it, but it mentally affected me. I didn't want to admit it, but a few years down the line, to this year, it's really hit me. Post-traumatic stress, that's trauma, that's real. It doesn't just happen in a blink of an eye. "Oh! I was in a car crash, the next year," "Oh! I've got PTSD." That doesn't work like that.
I've got to remember, I've been in the military. I've been blown up in a vehicle, in Afghanistan. I've had colleagues, people from my battalion get injured and lose their life. It all affects you. You're going on operations around the world doing things, sacrificing your freedom so you can give other people theirs. You believe you're doing a good job and this all is there.
Festering, building up, building up, and then I'll have something completely mentally focused for four years every day. And my mom's condition on top of that... Like, I'm only human. I've got feelings, I've got emotions and I broke down. Demons came for me because I was too proud, I was too stubborn to deal with it there and then. I palmed them off. It's not a good thing to do, [(4:00)] but that's me.
Would I advise anyone to do that? No. Go and get help, pick up the phone, go on then and that, seek help, because it will change you. It's changed me. I still have little blips, but I'm having positive blips as well as bad ones. I was in an event yesterday and I'm going to a kickboxing event tomorrow. I'm having a good week, things are good. But I'm under no illusions, that next week I could be feeling like crap. That's the reality, but the best hope I have, I'll have more good days than bad days.
And if there were bad days, are just little bad days, then I'm winning. I'm winning in life, especially with my mental health. I don't want to leave this place. I don't want to cause anguish or hurt on the family, because I've let my head go. I know it's not easy for people to say they have got a problem, especially for men. We store things up, we have this Persona Macho, "We're men. Boom!" But in fact, we’re flesh, blood and bones, and feelings just the same as others.
And I think we all need to look at our lives, and try or get the best out of it. Try and stay on that road of positivity. [(6:00)] But be under no illusions that when negative things happen, nip them in the bud as soon as possible. Don't let them fester. Don't let yourself dwell on them. Don't let them control you. If you feel that you're dwindling and other people say, friends or family are notifying you, like what I did, I knew I was dwindling but I did nothing about it because I'm a stubborn person, but my family knew about it.
And I push myself to the end, and that's when I went, "I need help." And I suggest everyone do the same but don't do how I did it. It doesn't matter how big or small, go and seek help, and that's my take on mental health. I was very naive when I came home, very naive about mental health. I didn't know about everyone was suffering. Coming out with mental health, I didn't say it. I wasn't able to.
So when you've got a fight in survival mindset and you're seeing people at the time. I said, "Why are people being weak? Why? What the hell was wrong with people? Blah, blah." Do I think that now? Definitely no. Definitely no. If I see someone having a bad time, I'll message them. My inbox is always open, I will reply when I can. I've got my own personal mindset to look after, but if I can try and help others as best as I can, then yeah, I will.
But you've got to think of number one. I know people don't like to when people say you're selfish, but no. Because if you don't look after that, [(8:00)] who the hell is? Yes there are professionals, but you still got to do the hard work. You've got to be willing... So, it's affected me. I didn't want to admit it at first, but it has.
There's a saying that goes, "Even heroes need to call for backup."
Well, Batman needed a Robin; Superman needed Super Girl, and others.
Absolutely! Well, we're glad you're home, and we're glad you're here.
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm so glad I'm home. I'm taking a negative part of my life and I'm trying to get as many positives from it. And I say this to everyone, It's a well-known saying that people word in different ways but “in every negative, there's a positive”. You've just got to look hard enough. Might be that, but it can get to that, and bigger.
Always head towards that positive light at the end of the tunnel. There might be times it was so bright, blindingly bright, and you thought "That's it, it ends!" Been taken away and it's as dim as hell and you squint to see. Is that a light? That's what it was like. And that's a mental battle that we had faced nearly every day for four years. Sometimes you didn't know if you were coming or going.
So, you weren't facing this alone, right? There were another five Brits with you, at least. Collectively you were known as the Chennai Six. So what were their names?
That's correct. Well, there was another guy called Nick.[(10:00)] There was a guy called John, Paul, Billy, and Ray and we were the Chennai Six, we are all ex-members of the British Army. We all were doing maritime security, and we all worked for the same company. And unfortunately, alongside our colleagues from Estonia and Ukraine, we were arrested and we owe four years of our lives for a crime we didn't commit.
We all went through our own personal battles, our own financial battles, our own family battles, whether it be people losing family members. My auntie died when I was in prison. My mom had a double aneurysm in prison. I can only explain and describe my side of things. I don't know how they feel. All I can turn around and say is we were hurting, we all dealt with it in our own ways. Some people might say others dealt with it better than some of us, but everyone's different, but we all came home together. That's the main thing.
From your perspective, I know what you went through is hell. You described it in your book, you call the title of your book "Surviving Hell." Did you not having to go through this alone, having these other five guys going through it with you make it easier for you, that you are not alone. There was some solidarity there, there was a brotherhood.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Even if you were to say just the six Brits were involved, it would have been difficult. Because there was a big party of us, 23 [(12:00)] foreigners, and we are all together. It made things a little bit easier because we were a big group with three different nationalities. It kind of made the case bigger, it kind of let the authorities not give us special treatment of such but to kind of just be a bit easy on us.
Do I think the prison could have been a lot more tougher? Damn right! We got a way with a lot. That's down to the embassy and us showing that we aren't bad people. Help me help you as they all used to say. Before I left, the jailer shook my hand. He says, "I had no problems with you." I said, "Why? Why would you have a problem with me? If you had a problem with me, you would know about it."
I didn't want to be here, you don't want me to be here. The superintendent didn't want us be in their prison. But it was out of their hands. They didn't put us in here. I had nothing against the prison staff. Yes, some of them were pretty idiots, but they didn't put us here. They're just trying to do their job. Yeah, okay not as good as you think it might be. Things took a little bit longer, you've got the translation, and not everyone in the prison could speak a certain amount of English. Yeah, we kind of had to learn a bit, a few Tamil words now and again. But yeah, being with a group definitely helped.
You being very open about your trauma, and admitting that you needed help is very important for people to hear.[(14:00)] Because I mean, growing up even in Britain, men are told not to show weakness, and for someone like yourself who served in the military in the army. I mean, vulnerability is seen as a weakness and military men like you see on TV, very few military men, at least in the last few decades would ever show any kind of vulnerability or weakness.
People are starting to talk about post-traumatic stress now openly because it's important. You being open about this is very important. You're helping save lives by just talking about your own experience. So, I'm very grateful for that and I know our listeners are very grateful for that, for you being open about this and I know it's not easy. So, thank you for that.
No, no, no. Like... for years, it's been pushed under the carpet. I'm not going to deny that. I can say it even if I don't like focus on it, I can see it in the corner of my eye. Us veterans are looking after struggling veterans, we shouldn't be doing that. The government should be helping, there should not be no veteran on the streets of UK, let alone anyone. I'm not saying just because we're veterans, we deserve special treatment. No, definitely not.
However, we pretty much deserve to be front of the queue, because when we were asked to do things that you wouldn't do, we did. We sacrificed a lot to keep the life that we're living. [(16:00)] Yeah, okay, a lot of people didn't agree with a lot of stuff. That's fair enough, and that's because they probably don't understand a lot. But when Afghanistan was happening and was coming on the media, and you had other people going around and doing stuff, it kind of opened the eyes to the British public on what we do as soldiers.
But how to show the people what it's like when we come back from these places and make our life. There isn't, it just happens. We don't know why. Like, things can trigger certain...Like, I don't have any triggers, I don’t think. Anything can trigger mental health, relationship, breakups, some idiot cutting you off, financial, loss of a job, a family member or anything. Milk is off in the morning when you've just pour it in your cup, it's gone all lumpy, you just look at it and you just think I can't deal with this. Something as trivial as that can just send you off on that spiral to the pit of darkness.
I had to go to hell to see the light, some people go to hell and don't come back. Unfortunately, that's reality. My advice, if you want to call it advice, seek help. I'm not the mister please listen to me. I'm just sharing my own experiences because I know someone out there could possibly [(18:00)] share some sort of experience in the mental health aspect and not going to share that. There's only certain amount of people out there who got the same experience as me and I hope that never ever happens to anyone else. It shouldn't, shouldn't.
Touch wood. But on the mental health thing, well no, it's not just military personnel, I get it, anyone can get it. But traumas, I think it has different levels in the person who deals with them. Like, women are tough, they deal with a lot and we don't give them enough credit. The amount of weight they sometimes have on their shoulders and they still crack on. My sister, she's one. How she’s done it, I have no idea, but she is suffering, she tells me and I keep telling her.
Go and seek help, because you're doing exactly what I've done. And this is your proof I told you, and you were saying this to me, and now I'm saying it to you, and I'm saying it to everyone. If you start and feel like you're having a bad day, take that "I'm having a bad day and go I need to sort something out here." If it's "Oh, I'm having a bad day," get another cup of coffee, the caffeine will kick in, you'll be fine.
But when you feel like crap, like, really down. We're not talking about suicide feelings, we're just feeling drained. The other day I felt ashamed, embarrassed, disgusted with myself because I missed Remembrance Day, [(20:00)] parade because I felt absolutely crap. I couldn't get out of bed, I felt, "Boomff!" And I felt awful, because the day before I couldn't wait, I wanted to show me respect, I wanted to stand with me beret on in front of my house, sat out and be proud.
Be proud to know when I've served and to remember those who have gave me this life. And I couldn't do that in person and I felt shocking, I felt disgusted with myself. But people were saying, "Don't, because on a day like this, it's allowed." Right? Not because I'm an ex-military personnel, like someone who isn't, probably won’t have felt any different. Some people won't even know it was Remembrance Day, to be honest.
Your sister has been amazing. She did a lot of campaigning for you, she raised awareness, she ran a marathon herself to fundraise for your legal expenses, right? Can you just talk to us about the amazing campaigning that your sister did?
I only know bits, cause like you say, there was so much my sister filled me with information. There was too much for the time and getting it all sent to me, but yeah... She made herself known, she became a thorn in the government's backside. Because if someone is innocent and their family members know they're innocent, they're going to make a song and dance about it.
If someone is guilty, yeah, they would support you, but they wouldn't have been going through what my sister did for me if I was guilty,[(22:00)] because that's like taking the piss. But I wouldn't have expected that, because I would have put my hand up and going, "Sorry, I've made a boo-boo, my fault." But no, I didn't. I did nothing wrong. My sister took it upon herself and said "I can make as much noise to get my brother fee, I want to help and try and get everyone free."
That was her goal, and then other family members jumped in and helped out. But my sister had no break, and she was dealing with my Mom, and she had time off from work, and she was dealing with a media, and she was dealing with me... [sighs] I don't know how to this day how she have done it, I honestly don't. And she came to visit me on three occasions, and obviously the fourth occasion when I got released.
She's only small, in shoes, moderately small and mighty by people who knew her. She just made her voice heard, she got on that TV and she showed what it's like to people around the UK, what it's like to have an innocent family member trapped abroad. The lack of involvement that the British government were doing. I think there's more that the British government can do than what they want to lead on.
Yeah, so you raise a good point, and no family should have to do this alone when they are wrongfully detained overseas. What should the British government be doing better?
Nick Dunn: [(24:00)]
I think the British government should establish, if the person or persons is guilty or innocent... We've all heard the stories about foreign countries especially in Arab states where they write some statement in Arabic and they just force you to sign it, you don't even know what you signed. I think basically should be like it. More involvement in trying to get to the basic basis of things like with our situation, the government knew where we were, but yet couldn't get access to us at the beginning. And you think we'll how- hang on a minute.
But I understand the British government is not just going to drop everything for us. I see, no they will have over people to attend to. How many British people did I come across in Chennai? Not bloody many, that's for sure. So, yeah, you could have done more. The embassy staff for the prison side can't fault them. But British government as a whole, I reckon they could have done more. To say that we can't meddle in other country's affairs, bollocks, lie, you can.
So I read a Guardian article, where you were quite critical of then Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who is now Prime Minister Boris Johnson. What should the Prime Minister be doing or the Foreign Minister be doing better [(26:00)] in their position? Because you're not the only person wrongfully detained overseas, we've seen this with many cases like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, I campaign very closely with her family, including her husband, Richard Ratcliffe. What should the Foreign Office, the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister be doing better in your opinion?
Well, I can't say that they didn't go beyond what the normal protocol is for us i.e. embassy visits, High Commissioners come to see me or Foreign Ministers come to see me, that doesn't happen. They they did do more than what they should have done on that retrospective. No British prisoner will ever see a Foreign Minister before them in a prison. I saw two different ones, saw a High Commissioner many times, saw a Deputy High Commissioner many times.
I saw the embassy ladies more than what they were meant to see us. So, yes, the British government on that side, did more than what they should have. But as in government level, high delegate, like Foreign Secretary and higher. Did I think they achieved anything? No. I think when David Cameron was Prime Minister at the time, he was trying to speak Hindi and having a good time with Narendra Modi in London. I was like, "You're just an embarrassment, mate. You're an embarrassment!"
I know it was a totally different thing, but when we have got family members pushing for meetings and that's get turned [(28:00)] around, and said, "We can't get involved." And then when I'm at home and you see on the news, "Oh, British government demands the release of such-and-such...or British government getting involved." And I'm sat at home and I'm like, "Hang on a minute! You've told my family for four years, you couldn't get involved, but yet you're getting involved with something else."
That's a bit strange, don't you think? Like I said earlier, I don't want special treatment just because I'm a British ex-service military personnel. I want my government to help me if I've been wrongfully arrested, wrongfully! The evidence is there for you to see, deal with it! That's what I want my government to do and that's what they should be doing.
It's a lot easier for the British government to criticize an adversary, a state that is not an ally than it is to criticize a state like India, that is a big ally, right?
This is this is one of the things that a lot of people were saying to me, "Why did this happen? As David Cameron has mentioned a blossoming relationship between India and the UK." Well, it wasn't very blossoming relationship, because there was a bit of a gap. There was something missing, communications, maybe. Why did you send a carrier pigeon with two broken wings to pass the message on, to release us, but took four years?
Now, what should the journalists have done better in terms of covering cases like yours while you were in prison?
To be honest, I didn't really have a lot of dealings with the media. Only when I had to make an appearance, like via Skype, now and again. The media for me, was fantastic. [(30:00)] Yeah, it was a little discrepancies of things, but that's like minor, instead of saying six months they said seven, but nothing that they wrote about me or the guys was false.
Because all the information came from me, to my sister, to them. I think the media when there's other cases, I think that they need to get the gist on the ins and out first before running that story get the truth. Don't make up things like it did just recently with the bomber at that hospital like you know they just printed and waffled your crap. No, don't do that. But for other cases, it is hard for Nazanin and our family,
I've done an interview for Sky, and of course that will come out when we get the good news for her. Safe passage back to the UK, fingers crossed sooner rather than later. Because I can now say this from my own home. I know how a family feels, and I know how she feels. She's got to be thankful that she's not in prison anymore. However, there is that daunting feeling where she may have to go back to prison again.
I can understand, I had a year and a half before going back to prison to then doing two years. So I can definitely relate, [(32:00)] and it's not a nice feeling. At least she's aware that potentially is going to happen or not. We weren’t. We hadn't a clue where it was day by day for us.
So what can the British public do to make sure this doesn't happen again to someone like yourself, what can they do?
I think like just going of the support that we had, I think the British public was fantastic. But it was because we were all north and one guy was Scottish. There wasn't a lot down south. So I think our media should have tried and pushed it down south to get the country behind to then say, "Come on, British government! These are innocent men. She's an innocent woman, etc. Get them home, get them home! Bring them home, they are innocent, you can say they're innocent." That's what the British public should do.
So we're almost at the end of our interview, is there anything else you like to mention?
Well, I do have my own book, it has been mentioned. But, yeah, ‘Surviving Hell’. Can pick it up at Amazon, Waterstones, any of our bookstores may have it or get in touch with me. I can put my scribble on and give you a signed copy. I just like to say thank you to everyone that supported me over the four years, and who’ve come to support me or follow me since I've been home in my [(34:00)] journey of recovery, especially with my mental health.
I don't bleed on too much about it, because I have to deal with it. But I will say to people, "Don't do what I do. Go seek help. Quickest opportunity possible. Don't let things, dwindle and get worse." Just basically, thank you every single person who supported me and my family during our dark days. And hopefully I can get some events organized to where people can come and see me in the flesh and I can stand and share my story.
So yeah, I hope I can take off a bit better, now a bit more slightly relaxed, recovered. But yeah, it's it's a big thank you for everyone. Big thank you for those from the British Embassy. Big thank you for those of our people support and helping raising awareness to help my sister take a little bit of weight off her shoulders as well. Just a general thank you, and I couldn't have done it without you, simple as that.
Nick, we are truly happy you and the other members of the Chennai Six are home. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. We really appreciate it.
No problem, Daren. Thank you so much.
Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, where a community. If you are on Twitter and would like to post a message of solidarity to the family, or have any questions for us. Please tweet it using the hashtag Pod Hostage Diplomacy [(36:00)] and we'll get back to you. If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the "Support the show" link in the description of this podcast episode. We are grateful for any contributions, no matter how small. Thanks again for listening and we'll be back next week. Take care.