The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A fax between Bleach and freedom

Calcutta, Feb. 1: The cliff-hanger over the release of Peter Bleach played out another day with the file for his freedom being pushed around from Alipore central jail to Writers’ Buildings to the home and finance ministries in Delhi.

And the 51-year-old Briton, sentenced to life imprisonment in the Purulia armsdrop case but granted presidential remission on Friday, said he was “deeply distressed” by the waiting game and was even “considering a hunger strike” in silent protest of his predicament.

According to state home secretary Amit Kiran Deb, the ball now lies in the North Block court. “We are waiting for a fax from the finance ministry, confirming that the Mumbai customs case has been sorted out. When we receive it, we will release Bleach immediately,” Deb told The Telegraph.

The home secretary had received the Rashtrapati Bhavan order remitting the rest of Bleach’s sentence and ordering his release provided he was “not required” by law in any other case.

He reiterated today that the Mumbai airport customs case was the principle stumbling block.

Deb was referring to the showcause notice served on Bleach with charges related to impounding of the aircraft used in the armsdrop in December 1995, along with foreign currency and light arms.

Bleach had been summoned to Mumbai — the site of the arrest — in September 2003, but couldn’t travel because of illness. That matter, officials said, has not been resolved and so Bleach cannot be released till Delhi gives the all-clear to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.

In Mumbai, meanwhile, customs officials were tight-lipped about the case. All that an official would say on condition of anonymity was that the matter will be “viewed in a new light” in the wake of the presidential order.

The other legal block — the charge on Bleach of assaulting another prisoner in Presidency jail in November 2002, lodged with Hastings thana — was brushed aside by the home secretary. “That will be managed by us and will not hold up his release,” clarified Deb.

Bleach conveyed his “dismay” over yesterday’s turn of events — involving nearly six hours of failed talks between British officials and the state jail authorities — to the representative from the British deputy high commission who visited him this morning.

After having distributed sweets amongst other prisoners on receiving the news of the President’s remission order on Friday, Bleach today was “frustrated and fearful of what might happen next”.

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