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December 9, 2002

India frees deaf charity worker over health fears

From: Independent, UK - 09 Dec 2002

By Phil Reeves in Delhi
09 December 2002

A disabled and profoundly deaf British charity worker who was given a 10-year jail sentence in India in August 2000 for possessing cannabis was freed yesterday on health grounds.

Ian Stillman, 52, was resting at the British High Commission in Delhi last night after a 28-month nightmare that began with the discovery of 44lb of cannabis in a taxi in which he was travelling in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Concerns had been steadily growing about his health – he lost a leg in a road accident in 1995 and has diabetes – and the harsh conditions in prison in Shimla, north India.

His friends and family, who fought an energetic publicity campaign on his behalf, welcomed the news of his release. His sister, Elspeth Dugdale, said: "The waiting just seemed endless ... The entire family is delighted and celebrating."

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad – which described his case as the "worst miscarriage of justice" his organisation has dealt with during its 10-year existence – attributed his release to the "enormous pressure" from the deaf community.

Mr Stillman, who comes from Reading, Berkshire, has worked on the subcontinent for 30 years where, from his base in Kanyakumari in south India, he founded a number of charitable organisations. The subject of a 1992 BBC documentary, he is expected to return to the UK next week after a period of rest with his Indian wife, Sue, and their two grown-up children.

The Indian Supreme Court refused him leave to appeal this year and the charges against him, which he has always denied, have not been overturned.

His case had been raised with the Indian authorities by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and by Tony Blair, who wrote to his counterpart, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A Foreign Office spokesman said it was "very grateful to the Indian authorities for releasing him on health grounds".

© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd