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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Ambassador offers advice to expats and tourists after series of Brits get into legal trouble

Foreign and Commonwealth Office has faced criticism in UK media

Philip Parham, British Ambassador to the UAE, said residents and visitors need to be aware that some things that are legal in the UK are not legal in the Emirates. Christopher Pike / The National
Philip Parham, British Ambassador to the UAE, said residents and visitors need to be aware that some things that are legal in the UK are not legal in the Emirates. Christopher Pike / The National

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued its latest guidance for tourists and expatriates visiting the UAE after a spate of high profile legal cases.

Scotsman Billy Barclay has returned home after spending weeks under house arrest following an arrest over allegations of using counterfeit currency in the UAE, a charge he denied and was later proven to be a mistake.

The case of another Scottish visitor, Jamie Harron, 27, remains ongoing following allegations he touched another man inappropriately in the Rock Bottom bar in Barsha Heights.

Mr Harron was arrested five months ago and faces charges of indecency that carry a five-year prison term.

The FCO has faced criticism in UK media for not providing adequate support for those arrested, and advising family members to refrain from contacting media outlets to raise the profile of such cases.

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UAE’s indecency laws explained after public gestures land westerners in trouble

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British Ambassador to the UAE, Philip Parham has said the consular support offered is limited, but most visits remain trouble free.

“In light of the recent interest, I would like to address a few points related to the UK’s consular service and travel advice,” he said.

“Fortunately, most stays in the UAE are trouble-free. The nature of consular work means that our team become involved when something has gone wrong.

“These can be highly distressing cases. Our team is there to provide support to the individuals and their partners and families.

“This support can include issuing emergency travel documents, visiting British people in hospital or in prison, or providing advice when they have fallen victim to crime.

“For people in detention our staff are there to support them and take an interest in their welfare.”

More than 100,000 British people live in the UAE and another 1.5 million visit every year.

In 2017 so far there have been 213 new detainee cases, in 2016 there were 281 cases in total.

The FCO consular network helped more than 23,000 people last year as well as continuing to help those with long-running cases from previous years.

The Foreign Office doesn’t promote any country as a holiday destination, but does publish travel advice on 225 countries or territories to help British people make better-informed decisions about their foreign travel.

“There are, however, limits to the support we can provide,” Mr Parham said.

“We cannot interfere in the legal processes or prison systems of other countries, just as we would not allow other governments to interfere in ours.

“But we do make representations if we have good grounds to believe that, for example, the host country’s own laws are not being properly followed, or a British person is being held in conditions which fall short of international standards.

"Our travel advice for the UAE explains that local laws and customs are very different to those in the UK and that there may be serious penalties for doing something which may not be illegal in the UK.

"But we understand that, regardless of how prepared we all are, British people can still find themselves in difficult or distressing situations, and we are ready to help on those occasions."

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