A NEILSTON woman desperately hopes to be reunited with her fiancé in the new year – more than three years after he was arrested on illegal firearms charges in India.

Twenty-seven-year-old Yvonne MacHugh’s one wish for 2017 is for partner Billy Irving to be allowed to return home so he can see their year-old son William grow up.

Ex-paratrooper Billy, 35, was working on an anti-piracy ship in October 2013 which was adjudged to have carried weapons into Indian waters without written permission.

Billy, along with five other British MV Seamen Guard Ohio crew members, continually protested his innocence for more than two years.

Since then, and following a protracted court case, Indian authorities sentenced Billy and the rest of the vessel’s 35 anti-piracy seamen to five years in jail back in January.

This year will be Connel-born Billy’s fourth Christmas and New Year spent separated from his family.

The only form of communication Yvonne and Billy have had in the past six months has been through handwritten letters.

Chemist worker Yvonne last spoke with her fiancé face-to-face during a visit to his squalid Chennai prison cell six months ago.

Billy’s absence has been further compounded by the fact judgement on an appeal – in which families of each of the UK prisoners lodged documents showing the arms licences were granted by the British Government – was reserved indefinitely by the Indian courts at the start of this month.

However, the latest setback has not stopped Yvonne from believing she will have Billy back in the near future.

She said: “If you’d asked me before the appeal, I thought it was never going to end.

“But now that we’ve finished the appeal and we got feedback from the lawyers that it went really well, I just feel there is a good chance that we can start 2017 afresh with Billy home.

“I’m so used to it now. It’s been over three years and it’s constantly getting pushed back.

“I did half expect it but it’s not to say that I didn’t want a verdict before Christmas and didn’t think in the back of my mind that we could get a verdict and it could be that of not guilty.”

Yvonne admitted the strain of not having her partner around while others enjoy the festive period and New Year celebrations can take its toll.

The hardest part for Yvonne is not being able to fathom why the situation occurred in the first place.

“I just can’t understand why it’s even happening,” she said. “I honestly have no idea why it’s happening and that’s the one thing that I wish someone could tell me: Why do they want to hold them for so long?

“Who is benefiting from it? From what I can see nobody is benefiting from it. It’s really hard, it was William’s second Christmas and it’s the second one that Billy’s not been with him.

“Last year it was a bit easier because he was out of prison and he had Skype, so he could at least see William. But this year we were not allowed so much as a phone call.”

Last week, Yvonne uploaded a video message on Facebook thanking all those who have stuck by Billy from the day he was arrested.

She was eager to acknowledge the constant support he has received and said: “Billy’s got so many incredible friends who have just gone above the call of duty to help Billy, myself and my friends and family.

“It’s affecting every single one of them and my family and Billy’s family.

“Everyone’s in the same boat, we’re all just waiting for this verdict; it’s a double-edged sword. We’re desperate to get a good verdict and him home.”