IT has been four years in the making, but Nick Dunn will finally get his wish to take part in the Simplyhealth Great North Run this weekend.
Former soldier Nick and 34 colleagues from a maritime security firm were wrongfully arrested on weapons charges while on anti-piracy duties off the Indian coast in 2013 – and was jailed, released and jailed again in an ordeal which lasted four years before the group’s eventual release last year.
Despite his imprisonment, he managed to complete a half marathon on the day of the Simplyhealth Great North Run a year ago, but will now take part in the event for real alongside sister Lisa and brother Paul, who campaigned tirelessly for his release while he was in exile.
Lisa and Paul have completed three Great North Runs while Nick was in prison – each year hoping that they would be joined by their brother on the start line.
Nick had signed up for the half marathon in 2014 following his first release from prison on bail in the June of that year after spending five months behind bars, but he was not allowed to leave India and his plans to run the Great North Run were scuppered.
Back home, Lisa and the Dunn family were fighting to ensure Nick’s safe return, taking the appeal to Parliament for support.
Hopes were high, and Nick’s Great North Run place was deferred to 2015 where he was expected to join Lisa and Paul in taking part for the first time.
Lisa said: “We thought we’d be able to run together, but it wasn’t to be. Having to send his number back was the hardest thing ever.”
In 2015 it was decided that Nick and his 34 colleagues were to face a retrial – all were eventually found guilty in January 2016, and were sentenced to five years in prison.
Lisa said: “Every year we had to send the number back was just reinforcing the fact he wasn’t home yet again.
“Year on year, it was definitely becoming more of a focal point of the situation, every year it was raising awareness and highlighting the case, raising money for the legal fees, so it became something much bigger than I’d ever anticipated for us.
“For us to finally run together on Sunday – what I’d set out to do four years ago – It’s going to be the end of a very nasty chapter in our lives. It’s going to be poignant and really quite emotional.”
Lisa and Paul ran in 2015, 2016 and last year, each year in the hope they would be joined by Nick, with their hopes dashed each time. But finally, in November 2017, their appeal succeeded and the group were fully acquitted. Nick was allowed to return to the UK, and was reunited with his family amid emotional scenes at Newcastle Airport.
Nick said: “Every year that went by, it looked like I could make the Great North Run but it never happened. Getting released last November – then that was it, it was set in stone and I will do this year’s Great North Run.
Lisa added: “In 2015 Paul and I ran for Nick and the rest of the lads, every year was ran for him. But finally this year we can run with him. It’s just the icing on the cake for us.
“The Great North Run has become something even bigger than it ever was for us. It’s big and special anyway regardless of this situation. For us, as a family, it is more than a half marathon.”
Nick will line up on the Central Motorway for the first time on Sunday, but this will not be his first half marathon, having completed the 13.1mile distance in prison on the same day as last year’s Simplyhealth Great North Run.
He explained: “I was training to run the Great North Run, and I was saying to Lisa to keep my place, I’m going to get out. But that never happened.
“I kept on training anyway, and Lisa had been telling me she was going through little niggles so I decided to do my own half marathon while in prison to inspire her to grin and bear it.
“I ran it at 6am on the day of the Great North Run in 29 degrees heat, and I ran around the prison 27 times. The prison staff wanted to know what was so special, why I was doing it.
“It was one of those moments when I thought if I can’t do the Great North Run I’m going to do it in prison and it’s going to show defiance that they can’t beat me at anything.
“It gave me a stronger mental attitude, and it kept me positive. It had a knock-on effect because I did it on the day of the Great North Run. I wanted to do it to have that positive energy seep into my sister’s little body to carry her through.
“I know how much she was dreading it and I had to coax her. I told her not to throw the towel in because she was doing it for me, and if she gave up, then I gave up. It was about fighting to the finish.”
Lisa added: “It means so much more than a run. It’s all about not giving up.”
Lisa and Paul have explained to Nick what he can expect from the 13.1 miles between Newcastle and South Shields on Sunday, with Nick looking forward to the famous support along the route.
He joked: “Lisa is adamant I need to get a handful of jelly babies, and there’s people handing out pork pies and all sorts apparently.
“It’s the support and the drive that you get from the crowds that come out, they keep spurring you on – they can do that for me if I’m flagging.
“This time last year I was running in a prison with nobody spurring me on. This time I’m going to have the kind people of the North-East cheering. They’re going to be helping me.
“I can’t wait to do it.”
Lisa added: “It’s going to be mind-blowing for him. You can’t appreciate how special it is until you do it.”
Nick, Lisa and Paul will be raising money for the Mission to Seafarers, who supported the Dunn family throughout the ordeal.
Nick said: “Throughout the four years they were giving pastoral care to my family. When the family weren’t getting information they were picking up the phone and letting them know I was fine.
“Hopefully we can raise as much money as possible as a way of saying thank you. Over the past four years they have been phenomenal and they will always have a special place in my heart.”