After seven years and five months in Presidency jail, Peter Bleach, convicted in the Purulia armsdrop case, has been “transferred on official orders” to Alipore Central prison, under a shroud of secrecy.
“Yes, he (Bleach) has been moved. This took place four or five days ago. This is an administrative issue, and I can give no further details,” said Presidency jail assistant controller Prasenjit Biswas, when contacted by Metro on Friday.
British deputy high commission spokesman John Hamilton confirmed the shift. “We are aware that Bleach has been moved… He appears now to be happy with the conditions at the new prison. Our concern has always been for his welfare, as he continues with the process of his appeal.”
Sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1995 armsdrop, the British ammunition expert has been suffering acute back problems, and apparently fiercely resisted the move to shift him.
Sources close to Bleach fear the decision, “sanctioned at the highest level”, comes as part of an effort by the West Bengal government to “cover up the appalling conditions” in which he has been incarcerated for the past seven years.
The prison authorities are understood to have informed Bleach of the plans to relocate him last weekend, but backed down after he protested the move. The authorities, however, insisted on the shift.
“A large group of prison staff came to Bleach’s cell early in the morning,” a source said. “He resisted, and according to him, they hauled him out of his bed to present him before the prison superintendent. He was then piled into the back of a police jeep, before being driven directly to Alipore jail.”
Conditions at Alipore Central are said to be considerably better than at Presidency jail. Bleach has suffered repeated bouts of tuberculosis. Last week, he was granted leave on medical grounds from appearing in a magistrate’s court.
The change of address could have come in the face of mounting pressure for remission of Bleach’s sentence from the British government, on the grounds of “equal treatment before law”, following the release of the five Latvians serving identical sentences.
The British national, confined to Presidency jail since January 1, 1996, was “accused, convicted and sentenced identically” as the Latvians, who were granted remission in July 2000.
Bleach’s argument, in court, is that this amounts to “a clear case of discrimination, a violation of Article 14 that ensures equality before law”.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has twice written to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, requesting the Briton’s release, but his letters have gone unanswered.
Recently-appointed British deputy high commissioner in Calcutta Andrew Hall has promised to step up the pressure on the Indian government to set the prisoner free, following concern over the way the judicial process was being handled, and Bleach’s deteriorating health.