x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Couple jailed for indecency on beach

A British couple found guilty of having intercourse on Jumeirah Beach are planning to appeal against their three-month jail term.

Vincent Acors and Michelle Palmer who have received a three month jail sentence for illicit relations.
Vincent Acors and Michelle Palmer who have received a three month jail sentence for illicit relations.

DUBAI // A man and a woman from Britain accused of having intercourse on a public beach after drinking alcohol have been found guilty and sentenced to three months in jail followed by deportation. A verdict in the case involving Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Alcors, 34, was reached yesterday during a short hearing at Dubai Misdemeanors Court. Each was also fined Dh1,000 (US$272) for being intoxicated in a public place. Palmer and Acors, who did not attend the hearing, could begin serving their sentences as soon as Sunday. They were arrested on Jumeirah Beach shortly after midnight on July 5. They had met 12 hours earlier, at a brunch. Both denied having intercourse on the beach but conceded they were intoxicated. Palmer and Acors have 15 days to appeal the verdict. Their UAE-based legal representative, Hassan Matter, said an appeal of the jail term would be lodged on Sunday. "We will appeal this hearing as my clients are deeply upset and still plead their innocence because they feel unjustly done by and maintain they were only kissing and hugging and not having intercourse," Mr Matter said. Andrew Crossley, Acors's lawyer in the UK, said his client was "devastated" and called the verdict "severe and unnecessary". Mr Crossley said he believed the case represented a "schism between two separate cultures". "My client readily recognises the need to observe the local laws and customs, but believes that his brief and innocent encounter with Michelle Palmer should not be utilised to determine these moral dilemmas to the detriment of himself and Michelle." Although Palmer and Acors are forbidden from leaving the UAE, Mr Matter said he would ask that they remain free on bail until the appeal. Court officials expect them to turn themselves in on Sunday when the appeal is lodged. Judge Hamdi Abdul Khair's ruling included the jail sentence for illicit relations and a deportation order for public indecency. The penalty for public indecency is deportation; the sentencing and the fine imposed was at the judge's discretion. Speaking on behalf of Judge Khair, his secretary said: "The three months' sentence is fair in relation to UAE law; it is neither too strict or too lenient. They may appeal the case, and if they win then we'll waive the jail sentence but they will still be deported." Their actions in public, out of wedlock, warranted at least deportation and a Dh1,000 fine for consuming alcohol, he said. The prosecution said that if Palmer and Acors appealed, they would seek harsher sentences. "They should have got six months in prison," said Faisal al Ahli, the Public Prosecutor. Mohammed Saleh Kheor, a lawyer who has represented clients on charges of public indecency and drunken and disorderly behaviour, but did not represent Palmer and Acors, termed the sentences "harsh". He cautioned Palmer and Acors against appealing, warning that it could lead to touger sentences. "I have worked on many cases, where the final verdict is either one month in prison followed by deportation or immediate deportation," Mr Kheor said. He recently defended two women, from Bulgaria and Lebanon, who were caught kissing on a public beach and were each sentenced to one month in jail. A Pakistani couple facing similar charges was immediately deported, he said. Mr Kheor said he believed the sentences were part of a larger strategy to deter expatriates from offending cultural norms and beliefs. "A one-month prison term would have been enough, but because they are British and the case was high-profile, they were made an example of," he said. The trial began on Aug 12, when Palmer denied having intercourse with Acors. She said they were "kissing and hugging". Prosecutors said they interviewed five witnesses, mostly passers-by who said they saw Palmer and Alcors having intercourse. On Oct 7, a court session to hear testimony from the arresting officer, Ali Mohammed Yacoub, was cancelled. Mr Yacoub had also failed to appear at a hearing on Sept 9, with no reason given for his absence.

In his statement to prosecutors, Mr Yacoub said he arrested Palmer and Acors after two men stopped his patrol car near a beach by the Burj Al Arab hotel reporting that a man and a woman were having sex on the nearby beach. In his statement, Mr Yacoub said he followed the men and saw the pair. Mr Matter argued that Mr Yacoub was too far away to determine whether they were having intercourse. More important, Mr Matter said, DNA tests after their arrest showed no evidence of intercourse. Mr Matter said the media spotlight had been devastating for Palmer and her sick mother, which was part of the reason she did not attend the court hearing. Palmer was fired from the Dubai-based publishing group ITP after her arrest. Acors, a sales director for a television company, had been on a four-day business trip to the UAE. shafez@thenational.ae