British passport holders are proportionately more likely to be arrested in the UAE than they are in any other nation apart from the US and Cyprus, according to a new report. Last year, 230 Britons were incarcerated in the Emirates, including 59 for drugs offences, figures from the Foreign Office in London show. Fifty Britons were apprehended in Abu Dhabi last year, 19 for drugs crimes.
Catherine Wolthuizen, the chief executive of Fair Trials International, puts the number of drug arrests down to the highly sensitive new equipment that customs officials use to conduct searches on travellers. "So many people now travel to Dubai and, as we're seeing, many have no idea what risks they're taking or their vulnerability to this very strict approach," she says. "If they find any amount - no matter how minute - it will be enough to attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence.
"What many travellers may not realise is that they can be deemed to be in possession of such banned substances if they can be detected in their urine or bloodstream, or even in tiny, trace amounts on their person." Raymond Bingham, who is otherwise known as DJ Grooverider, was among those arrested for drugs offences last year. The Radio 1 broadcaster was jailed for four years in February after being caught at Dubai International Airport three months earlier with a small amount of cannabis and a pornographic DVD in his luggage.
Keith Brown, a British tourist, was also sentenced to four years in prison after Dubai customs officers found a 0.003g trace of cannabis stuck to his shoe. The figures also suggested that Britons were more likely to seek consular assistance in the UAE than they were anywhere else. Last year, British consular staff in the Emirates were asked for help on 3,597 occasions, a total beaten only by the USA (8,304) and Spain (7,590), both of which have many more UK visitors.
Spain was also the country where most Britons were arrested in 2007 - 2,032, which was almost a third higher than the previous year. The number of arrests in France soared by 42 per cent, although the total number of people, 153, was small compared with the millions who cross the Channel each year. The figures also showed that, proportionately, Thailand was the country where British travellers were most likely to end up in hospital, although Spain, with its high number of holiday homes, was the country where most Britons were likely to die: 1,591 last year.