THE torment of a former Army officer has been revealed in letters sent back to North Yorkshire from his Indian jail.

Peter Bleach, from Fylingthorpe, near Whitby in North Yorkshire, is spending his sixth Christmas behind bars after an earlier appeal against his life sentence for gun smuggling was thrown out.

In letters sent to his elderly mother Oceana, he describes his battle with a second bout of pneumonia and his continued fight for freedom. He writes about his hope for an inquiry after the five Latvian pilots, convicted on the same charges with him, were released after being pardoned in a Presidential Order last summer.

He describes how he has cats in his cell in Alipore Centre Jail in Calcutta, which he feeds so they can pounce on the cockroaches, and how the walls are lined with mould and fungus.

"All the walls have thick black mould growing on them, and it is never cleaned off or killed with chemicals," he wrote in one of his last letters at the end of November.

"I strongly suspect that this is what has caused my lung problems."

Eighty-year-old Mrs Bleach, of Brompton-by-Sawdon, near Scarborough, spoke of her anguish over her son's situation and the years of false hope she has endured.

"Every time there is another hearing I keep thinking I won't need to send him something because he'll be coming home, but then he doesn't. It always comes to a pitch towards Christmas," she said.

Mr Bleach was arrested on December 17, 1995, after a huge cache of arms and ammunition was dropped in seven villages in West Bengal.

After being held for four years without trial, the businessman was convicted in February, last year, of smuggling weapons to Muslim rebels. A former pupil of St Peter's School, in York, he has always maintained he was acting with the full knowledge of the British Secret Service on a project designed to flush out extremists.

But he has remained behind bars, despite pleas for clemency by former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "We remain quite close to the case and continue to keep in touch with him and monitor it closely."

Donations to the Peter Bleach Appeal Fund can be made via Lloyds TSB Bank in Scarborough, account no: 0379679, sort code 30-97-43.