Calcutta, Jan. 30: Peter Bleach is hours away from freedom.
At 6.30 pm, a note reached home secretary Amit Kiran Deb’s desk at Writers’ Buildings. It contained what the Briton, serving a life term in connection with the Purulia armsdrop, was waiting for.
“The President’s order, remitting the rest of Peter Bleach’s sentence under Section 72 (1B) in response to his prayer for clemency, reached me this evening,” Deb told The Telegraph.
“If there is no other case under any other law pending against Bleach in this country, he is to be released immediately and handed over to the British deputy high commission,” said Deb. “We are in the process of checking out the legal clause and working out the modalities.”
Pressed for a time frame for the release, the home secretary said “any time tomorrow”.
So, after spending eight years and 30 days behind bars in Calcutta, the 51-year-old is on the verge of returning to his North Yorkshire home.
Bleach spent an anxious day at Alipore Central Jail after a British deputy high commission official informed him of the 30-minute meeting between deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and British home secretary David Blunkett in Delhi. “The request for the release of Bleach is being actively considered by the government and this would be possible soon,” Advani later said.
“I am cautiously optimistic. This is the least ambiguous statement on the chances of my release emanating from the Indian establishment and I am keeping everything crossed,” Bleach, imprisoned in Calcutta since January 1, 1996, told the British official in the afternoon.
That Bleach’s long vigil for freedom was entering its last lap had been indicated by Advani when he visited the UK last year and said he would ask law minister Arun Jaitley to look into the case. “We have discussed the matter with the law ministry and they have also said this could be possible,” Advani said today.
Britain has been upset by what it regarded as a clear case of discrimination against Bleach after the five Latvian crew members served identical sentences were released in July 2000 after Russian President Vladimir Putin personally requested their acquittal. Despite Prime Minister Tony Blair and former home secretary Jack Straw pushing Bleach’s case during every meeting with senior Indian leaders, Bleach continued to languish in jail.
“It’s finally over,” Teddy Taylor, the Tory MP pleading Bleach’s case for years, said from London. “The home office informed me this morning that Peter would be back home next week.”
“It’s fantastic,” laughed Bleach’s girlfriend Jo Fletcher. “He sounded so depressed in his last few letters that I was beginning to fear I would never see him again. But everything has changed in a few hours.”
Back at 1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, the British office which has been Bleach’s “only link with the outside world” was gearing up for “a very long night and day ahead”.