Joanne Thomlinson

Sometimes, extraordinary events act as a catalyst for extraordinary deeds – this year is a prime example of that. In this case, it was one, single cataclysmic event – the wrongful arrest of her brother – that unleashed superhuman qualities in our Woman of the Year.

Together with five others, John Armstrong, a former soldier originally from Wigton was working as a guard on an anti-piracy ship off Mumbai. He and five others – they became known as the Chennai Six after the prison where they were held – were arrested and imprisoned in 2013 for allegedly possessing firearms illegally – this was in spite of having all the correct paperwork… Charges were quashed but bizarrely, they were still interned, until an appeal hearing against the quashing of the charges was heard. On Monday 27 November 2017, a judge finally acquitted all of the men. Those are the bald facts. They give no sense at all of the terrible, terrifying reality – but back home, John’s sister was unwilling to stand by and watch. Shocked, but filled with missionary zeal, she became John’s most powerful advocate embarking on a relentless campaign for his exoneration and freedom. She started quietly, worried that there was potential to exacerbate the situation, but as it became clear that raising awareness was vital, the campaign itself became a high-profile offensive – not something this dignified and private lady was especially comfortable with. But needs must. Wigton, her family home, is noted for its sense of community – never was it more important, stronger or to the fore, in the town’s vigorous support for the family.

She set up on online petition, founded the Bring John Home awareness campaign – became a familiar sight on television, on the radio, in the press – always articulate, always measured but always fiercely determined. She corralled celebrities to help the campaign, she lobbied at government level, established contacts in the Foreign Office – with David Cameron’s resignation, one lot of mandarins were replaced by others – so she just went back and knocked on the same doors, never giving up, never giving in. She helped other families too, researching Indian law and getting legal advice…it was no quick fix, but years.

She visited her brother in jail in India on several occasions – giving him strength to fight on too. She promised him she would never give up until he was free – and she didn’t. What a sister!

Throughout all this, she continued to work at Dodd and Co – she joined the company in 2007 and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2011 and she is now its Charities Manager. She also had a young family to bring up, That she did all of this – and brilliantly – is beyond remarkable.

Our indefatigable, loving, strong, courageous Joanne Tomlinson is Cumbria Woman of the Year 2018.

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