“The future’s bright, the future’s sizzling’ jokes Ray Tindall in a Chester city centre pub after flying home from India following his release from prison at the end of a four-year-ordeal.
Ray was a security officer aboard an anti-piracy vessel when he and five other Brits were detained over weapons charges in October 2013. Thankfully, all have finally been cleared on appeal.
He had been living in Newton before embarking on what he thought would be a two-month contract to raise funds for his award-winning gourmet sausage business when everything went wrong.
Now all he wants to do is catch up with his family including eight-year-old daughter Lyra, who was just four when he left; meet his seven-month-old grandson Charlie for the first time and get Pig & Co back up and running.
This is no hint of bitterness towards the Indian authorities, the British government for not applying more pressure or his former employer who ran the floating armoury.
“I will never be able to move forward if I’m always looking for retribution or suing somebody or compensation. What’s done is done and nothing is going to change that so it’s time to move forward and draw a line in the sand.”
Ray, a proud Yorkshireman who hails from Hull, enjoyed his first pint in months at a press conference in The Golden Eagle organised by Chester MP Chris Matheson who has done his utmost to get Ray released – and even picked him up from Manchester Airport at 7am.
Asked what kept him going, Ray who also has a son Connor, 21, in Bridlington and daughter Georgia, 21, in Hull, responds instantly.
“My children. Seeing my children kept me focused every day, to train to be strong for them,” explains the former Army sniper, who also intends to become a personal trainer alongside his food business.
Christmas 2017 will be particularly memorable for Ray after regaining his freedom having been detained for four years, almost two of which were spent in an Indian prison.
“I remember nothing from last Christmas but it’s the past. It was just another day, although I did get thousands of cards from people and it was amazing to read all the cards. This Christmas Day I will be enjoying my mam’s cooking.”
But he accepts prison ‘could have been a lot worse’. The prison guards called him ‘Sir’, he was able to keep fit, fresh meat and vegetables were provided for them to cook with every day and he has no complaints about fellow inmates he encountered even though he was convinced more than one of them ‘was a murderer’.
At the moment Ray is staying in a rented apartment paid for by the Mission to Seafarers charity just a stone’s throw from where his daughter Lyra lives with his ex-wife in Newton. But he will be moving into a rented house in Hoole, coincidentally just a few doors away from Mr Matheson.
Delighted to be back in Chester, Ray continues: “I’ve lived here 20 years. There are some amazing people here in Chester and I can’t wait to catch up with them as well.”
It still remains a puzzle as to why Ray and his five fellow Brits, known as The Chennai Six, were charged with weapons offences. The six were among a total of 35 sailors and guards aboard MV Seaman Guard Ohio to receive five-year sentences. All have been acquitted and released.
The appeal judge was clear the Tamil Nadu government had ‘no right to prosecute’.
Looking back on his arrest, Ray recalled the men being told to sign documents written in Tamil, with no lawyer present, that implicated them all. “But we don’t think it would have made any difference. They were sending us down no matter what,” says Ray. “India is very, very of its own. This is my water, this is my country.”
He concludes: “I have to be an architect of my own future. The only way I can do that is to forgive and I have done that a long time ago.”
Ray has thought about writing a book about his experiences but isn’t really interested. Comparing old photos of himself used a lot in the media when he was broader in the face, Ray says he used to look like Grant Mitchell . Now he jokes that if a film was made about the saga he would want action star Jason Statham to portray him.