Drugs appeal by deaf British aid worker rejected

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The Independent Online

A deaf British charity worker jailed for 10 years in India for possessing 20 kilos of cannabis yesterday lost an appeal against his conviction.

A High Court judge in Shimla, north of Delhi, rejected Ian Stillman's claim that his first trial was unfair.

He was jailed last June after being arrested in the foothills of the Himalayas in August 2000 and charged with possessing the drug, which was discovered by Indian police in a bag with him in the back of a taxi. Stillman, 51, who has an artificial leg following a road accident, said he had never seen it before.

Lawyers for the charity worker had argued his trial was unfair because his profound deafness excluded him from the proceedings, which were carried out in Hindi, forcing him to lip-read snatches of the translation from his legal team.

The full reasons for the refusal of the appeal were not yet known and a written judgment was not expected for several days. But Stillman's sister, Elspeth Dugdale, said she was told the High Court judge said he believed Stillman was faking his deafness.

Ms Dugdale said: "We don't know all the reasons for the appeal being turned down but I think the judge referred to something in his notes which said they did not accept that Ian is deaf. I find that outrageous. He is profoundly deaf, a two-year-old child would know that he can't hear."

She added: "We are bitterly disappointed. We haven't had time to think 'What now?' but we will appeal straight to the Supreme Court." Her brother did not yet know of the court's decision, said Ms Dugdale, as he was in jail in Shimla and had not attended the appeal hearings. His son Lennie, 22, was staying nearby and would visit the prison to tell him, she said.

She said Stillman would have been incapable of carrying 20 kilos of cannabis as the amputation of his leg had left him with balance difficulties.

Stephen Jakobi, of the campaign group Fair Trials Abroad, which has been working on Stillman's behalf, said: "We are all flabbergasted – it seems quite clear to me that Ian's deafness as a handicap was ignored from start to finish."

Stillman, originally from Reading, set up the Nambikkai Foundation in 1978 to provide training, employment and education for deaf people in India. He was an adviser for the Indian government on deaf issues and his work was the subject of a BBC documentary in 1992.

Before the judgment was known, Ms Dugdale, 40, of Romsey, Hampshire, said the family had been on a knife-edge since the appeal ended in October. "He is appealing on the grounds that he is innocent and had nothing to do with this substance," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"He is a charity worker who has lived and worked in India for nearly 30 years. His heart and life are out there and he would have nothing to do with this sort of thing."

She said her brother's health had deteriorated, and he was confined to a wheelchair. His son had moved from London to Shimla to be near his father, and was his only channel of communication, Ms Dugdale said.

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