The release of Peter Bleach

Print edition : February 27, 2004

Peter Bleach after his release. - SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

BRITISH national Peter Bleach, convicted in the Purulia armsdrop incident of 1995 was granted a presidential pardon on January 30 after he spent more than eight years in various jails. However, owing to a pending case against him with the Customs Department in Mumbai, it was not before the afternoon of February 4 that Bleach could walk out of Alipore Central Jail a free man.

Addressing a large group of mediapersons inside the premises of the British Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, Bleach said: "At the outset, I wish to express my thanks to His Excellency the President of India for exercising his authority to remit my sentence." He also expressed his gratitude to the British government for "relentlessly" pursuing his case and said he was eagerly looking forward to returning to his family, which includes his 83-year-old mother and his girlfriend Jo Fletcher.

Bleach refused to answer any questions on the Purulia armsdrop case, as the case was still sub judice. Asked whether he would be safe in England with Kim Davy, a key suspect in the case who is still at large, Bleach answered poker-faced: "I do not think I will be safe in England at all. After all these years in tropical conditions, I might die of cold." During his imprisonment, he had contracted acute tuberculosis.

On a more serious note Bleach said: "Nothing can replace the years that I have lost. It has been a long struggle since 1995 and I feel vindicated that the Government of India has finally taken the decision to free me as it did the five Latvians in July 2000."

On July 22, 2000, five Latvian pilots, sentenced to life imprisonment along with Bleach, were pardoned by President K.R. Narayanan. The release of the Latvians, who had taken Russian citizenship, was seen as a goodwill gesture by the Indian government, particularly on the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India that year.

ON December 17, 1995, several boxes containing arms and ammunition were dropped from an Antonov-26 (An-26) in Bansgarh village in Purulia, West Bengal (Frontline, January 26, 1996). Later, the plane was forced to land in Mumbai by the Indian Air Force, and Bleach and the Latvian crew were detained. Kim Davy, however, managed to escape undetected.

With the release of Bleach, the last link to the Purulia case is gone, and still questions remain. The most important question is: for whom were the arms dropped in Purulia intended? Then there is also the conspiracy theory that has been doing the rounds, which suggests that the armsdrop was a pre-planned act involving government agencies and mercenaries working with the full knowledge of the government. Bleach himself always maintained that he had all along kept the British intelligence posted about the armsdrop.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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