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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Arms dealer challenges sentence
Peter Bleach
Peter Bleach addressed the court for 50 minutes
A North Yorkshire man imprisoned in India for arms smuggling told Calcutta High Court on Monday he had suffered "perverse, malicious and blatant racial discrimination".

Peter Bleach has served five years for his part in dropping a huge consignment of weapons from an aircraft over the Purulia district of West Bengal state in December 1995.

But while five Russian aircrew jailed with him have been released, Bleach does not become eligible for release for at least 14 years.

The two judges asked Bleach to file a legal affidavit by October 5 challenging his sentence and explaining his claims against the Indian authorities.

Moscow lobby

Bleach, who represented himself, said he and the five pilots were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on "identical charges".

In a 50-minute address he told judges Nure Alam Chowdhury and Narayan Chandra Sil: "The Russians were released, but I am still in jail."

The Russians were freed in July 2000 after authorities in Moscow lobbied the Indian government on their behalf.

Peter Bleach
Bleach has spent more than five years in jail

Friend and supporter Richard Stansfield told BBC News Online: "The more you look into this you realise there is something not quite right about the way Peter is being treated.

"I am hopeful the court will take a sympathetic view to what he is saying when it reconvenes in two weeks' time."

A Foreign Office spokesman told BBC News Online: "The hearing in Calcutta was a short one, but Mr Bleach had a chance to address the court and judge directly.

"He explained why he thought he had been treated unfairly, and the judge gave him two weeks to submit an affidavit putting forward why he should be released."

Consular visits

He said consular staff regularly visited Mr Bleach and that they were in court for the latest hearing.

Home Secretary Jack Straw recently asked Indian Home Minister LK Advani to reduce Mr Bleach's sentence in line with his companions.

At the trial, where all six pleaded their innocence, the prosecution said that Bleach was the key conspirator.

They were arrested when the plane, with Bleach and the others on board, was intercepted and forced to land in Bombay.

The destination of the arms remains unclear to this day. Kim Davy, the prime accused in the Purulia arms drop, is still missing.

See also:

10 Jul 01 | UK
30 Mar 01 | South Asia
05 Mar 01 | South Asia
08 Dec 00 | South Asia
22 Jul 00 | South Asia
24 Apr 00 | South Asia
02 Feb 00 | South Asia
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