THIS was the moment ex-soldier Ray Tindall had been waiting four years for – having a pint in a pub in his home city.
Joined by Chester MP Chris Matheson in The Golden Eagle on Castle Street, the 42-year-old spoke to reporters just hours after stepping off a plane at Manchester Airport this morning.
He spoke of missing “good quality British food” - especially sausages – and of the emotional reunion with his family that awaited.
He also stressed he bore no grudge against the authorities either in Britain or India for his ordeal and said he had been treated exceptionally well by the prison guards.
One of the ‘Chennai Six’, Ray was part of a group of men jailed in India in 2013 for 'illegally' possessing weapons while working for a private US-owned ship.
The anti-pirate vessel was impounded after it reportedly strayed into Indian territorial waters.
Charges against the group were initially dropped but the men were forced to remain in India while prosecutors pursued an appeal.
To the families’ horror the charges were then reinstated and the men were sentenced to five years in prison in 2016.
But then in a final twist last week a judge ruled the men should be acquitted and freed at an appeal hearing.
Mr Matheson said he had told Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that he hoped to share a pint with Ray before Christmas – and was delighted that the dream had become reality.
“To have him home with us is just fantastic,” Mr Matheson said.
Asked how it felt to finally be home, Ray replied: “I don't know yet! It's sort of overwhelming.”
The former sniper said he had always remained positive, thanks largely to his military training.
“I feel much stronger now than I've ever been,” he said. “In one way it's made me a better person, but I will never get those years back. I'm now an architect of my future, not a prisoner of my past.”
Ray plans to see his eight-year-old daughter Lyra – who was four when he last saw her – on Christmas Eve and will be with his mum in Hull for the rest of Christmas.
Asked how much he is looking forward to seeing his family he said: “No words can describe it. It will be overwhelming.”
Recounting what happened when he and his five colleagues were detained, he said there was no sudden arrest.
The ship was brought into the port and their weapons inspected, after which it took five days for the authorities to bring charges.
“We were like 'what the hell is going on?',” said Ray, from Newton.
He then had limited contact with home and his family, but never let things get on top of him – even when the group was acquitted and then re-convicted on appeal.
“That was a hard pill to swallow,” Ray said. “But I was never low at any stage. It was frustrating because it took so long but I had so much support. I've always been a strong Yorkshireman and I stayed strong.”
He believes a general lack of understanding of complex maritime and coastal law by the Indian authorities was to blame for his group's wrongful arrest.
But he did not have a bad word to say about the way he and his colleagues had been treated, and also stressed it was not the remit of the British government to interfere with the Indian legal system.
Ray and his colleagues helped each other out and were kept well fed and watered at all times. His typical routine involved having breakfast and then reading books for most of the day.
“We had no problems,” he said. “Everyone was fed. No one went to bed hungry and our area was always clean. The prison staff went out of their way to try and help us. They put mosquito screens up for us and we had individual mosquito nets.”
Ray said he now intends to draw a line under the experience and continue his life in Chester, which has been his home for the past 20 years.
He plans to enjoy good quality British food, watch the Chester Gladiators rugby league team and relaunch his butcher's business, which was once famed for its award-winning sausages.
“I've crossed the finished line now and I just want to move forwards,” said a tired, but smiling Ray as the press conference wrapped up.
See full story in the Chester Leader