THE parents of freed deaf charity campaigner Ian Stillman have publicly thanked all those who helped to secure their son's release from prison in India.

Roy and Monica Stillman expressed their "immense" gratitude when they spoke to an audience of about 100 people at St Edward the Confessor Church, in Dringhouses, last night.

Roy said: "Thank-you to you all. Almost all of you will have been involved in the case in one way or another.

"We are immensely grateful to the people of York, in particular the churches and also the media, particularly the Evening Press. I don't know how we would have survived without that degree of support."

Ian, who has one leg and suffers diabetes, was freed in December on health grounds more than two years into a ten-year jail term in India. He had been imprisoned after being convicted of cannabis possession - a charge he has always denied.

The Evening Press began campaigning for his release after hearing he had been denied a sign language translator at his arrest and trial, effectively excluding him from taking any part.

A total of 5,400 York readers signed the newspaper's campaign petition, which formed a major part of the public pressure which led to his release following intervention by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

His parents, who live in Tadcaster Road, York, gave an insight into their, and Ian's lives, in response to questions from the floor and from the Rev Martin Baldock, who chaired the question-and-answer session.

They spoke about how Ian is now, how they first discovered he was deaf, how they themselves met, and a number of other subjects.

They said their son was now living with his family a few miles from his sister, Elspeth Dugdale, in Romsey, Hampshire.

He had recently been to hospital in Portsmouth to have a new artificial leg made to replace the previous one which no longer fits him.

Monica said: "He needs time to generally get himself sorted out, having been in prison for nearly two-and-a-half years. I think it will take some months."

The couple also revealed how they met during the Second World War, while Monica was training as a hospital nurse and Roy was a "hungry" Oxford student, whom she took pity on at meal-time on the ward.

Roy, who went on to serve as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines during the war, was asked for his views on the current situation in the Gulf.

"Apprehensive is an understatement," he said. He said that, having seen the oppression of the Palestinians first hand, he believed Israel was the initial problem.

He said that if, in the past, people had put more pressure on the U.S. to moderate its policy towards the Palestinians and be more "even-handed" with both sides, the situation would not be as it is now.

Updated: 10:35 Tuesday, March 11, 2003