DEAF charity worker Ian Stillman's plight is set to worsen after officials announced he will be moved to what his family calls a "Midnight Express-type of prison".

The 52-year-old, whose parents live in Tadcaster Road, York, is expected to be transferred from his cell in Shimla, in India's Himalayan foothills, to Nahan jail, also in Himachal Pradesh.

Ian spent four weeks in Nahan when he was convicted of cannabis possession two years ago. The Midnight Express reference is to a film about a drug smuggler imprisoned in a Turkish jail where conditions were atrocious.

"The prison has a dodgy regime, visiting is restricted to once a month, there are no facilities for Ian and no other foreigners," said his sister, Elspeth Dugdale.

"Furthermore, the attitude of the Nahan superintendent when he met him in June 2001 was that Ian might be more suited to a mental institution, such was his lack of understanding of the deaf. This is very bad news."

Ian has always denied possession of cannabis, and a petition for a presidential pardon is currently being considered. India's deputy prime minister, LK Advani, also suggested recently that Ian could be granted clemency.

The Evening Press has been campaigning for Ian's release after he was not allowed a sign language translator at his trial, effectively excluding him from taking any part. A senior human rights lawyer called it the worst miscarriage of justice he has dealt with.

Ian's wife, Sue, said: "Why the jail fellows are doing this senseless thing while we are at the stage of trying to get a legal pardon or clemency, I just can't understand."

Elspeth said the move had been suggested by the prison doctor in Shimla. Ian had a leg amputated after a road accident and is diabetic. "It is probably because Ian is too high profile and, should anything happen to him medically, the doctor would be the first to be blamed."

"To their credit, the Foreign Office and the British High Commission seem to have put a lot of effort in to help solve this latest crisis."

Updated: 11:33 Monday, September 23, 2002