Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

Ex-Gulf News editor Francis Matthew fails to appear in court

The journalist's lawyers were to push for his release on Wednesday, after the Briton's 15-year sentence for killing his wife was overturned

Francis Matthew had his 15-year jail term overturned last year. The National    
Francis Matthew had his 15-year jail term overturned last year. The National    

A former newspaper editor who killed his wife in a row at their Dubai home failed to appear in court on Wednesday.

Lawyers for Francis Matthew had planned to ask judges at Dubai Court of Appeal to free the Briton, in what is the latest chapter in a tragic case stretching back more than two years.

In March last year, the former Gulf News editor was jailed for ten years after being convicted of physical assault that led to his wife Jane's death, a verdict that prompted members of her family to insist "justice had not been done".

His prison term was later increased to 15 years in October 2018 when Dubai Court of Appeal convicted him of premeditated murder, rejecting his appeal for a reduced sentence due to temporary insanity triggered by "emotional stress".

Nothing is certain because it all goes back to the court’s discretion

Musaab Al Naqbi, defence lawyer

Dubai Court of Cassation — the emirate's highest judicial body — then overturned the journalist's sentence in December and ordered that his case be reviewed by another panel of judges.

On Wednesday, Matthew's was one of 26 appeal cases to be heard – but he did not arrive at court before the morning session ended.

Ali Al Shamsi, one of Dubai's top criminal lawyers, who is representing Matthew, did not speak to the media.

On Tuesday night, Musaab Al Naqbi, another lawyer in Matthew's defence team, told The National they would argue that Matthew, in light of his son dropping charges, should be released as sufficient time has already been served, or his term at least be significantly cut from the 15 years previously ordered.

It was on July 4, 2017, that Matthew called Dubai Police to report that his wife Jane, 62, had been killed by thieves during a break-in at their three-bedroom home while he was at work.

Police found his wife of more than 30 years dead in bed with a severe head wound.

During questioning, Matthew later admitted to killing his wife after an argument related to their dwindling finances and debts of about Dh1 million.

He said she provoked him by calling him a “loser”.

Jane Matthew. Photo Courtesy: Peter Manning, Jane’s brother
Jane and Francis Matthew were well known in Dubai media circles. Photo Courtesy: Peter Manning, Jane’s brother

Matthew, 62, took a hammer from the kitchen, followed her to the bedroom and hit her on the head, then staged a robbery scene.

His confession set in motion a long and complex chain of events that is still unravelling.

The latest twist in the case came at Dubai Court of Appeal in June, when Matthew's lawyer, Mr Al Shamsi, told judges the victim had only two legal heirs – her father and son.

Her son had previously signed a waiver dropping criminal charges against Matthew, but Jane’s father refused.

Matthew’s father-in-law died in March, meaning all private charges against him were dropped.

Addressing the court on Wednesday, Al Shamsi told presiding judge Saeed Salem Obaid Bin Saram that this hearing was scheduled to allow them to present the original copies of official documents related to the case including the waiver and the death certificate of his client’s father-in-law.

“You can present them to court when your client attends the next hearing,” the judge said before rescheduling the next hearing on October 23 to summon Matthew from his prison cell.

Two types of laws are applied to every case: private and public.

While private law – the right of the victim’s legal successor against an accused – no longer applies in this case because of the death of Jane’s father, the public law – the right of government law against an accused – is still applicable.

In UAE law, if the legal successors of a victim drop charges and waive their private rights, the court is still obliged to impose a penalty against the accused under public law – but it will be a shorter term.

The minimum sentence for murder in the UAE is 10 years in jail.

But "when a legal heir of a victim waives their private right in the criminal case, the sentence expected to be issued, based on the public right of the law, is almost up to two years," said Mr Al Naqbi during the hearing.

"The reasons for the case's referral include a lack of proper justification that proves the premeditation factor,” said Mr Al Naqbi on Tuesday.

"This means that the reasons given for the 15-year prison sentence did not prove the charge to be premeditated murder, and that could result in changing the charge to an assault that led to death.

"But nothing is certain, because it all goes back to the court’s discretion based on the details of the case and evidence provided."

A tragic timeline

July 4, 2017: Matthew called Dubai Police to report that his wife, Jean, 62, had been fatally assaulted by thieves. He later admits that he killed her.

March 25, 2018: Matthew, who had faced the prospect of the death penalty, was jailed for 10 years at Dubai Criminal Court after being convicted of physical assault leading to death. His legal team successfully argued for the charge to be changed from murder.

October 7, 2018: The veteran journalist had his jail sentence increased to 15 years after Dubai Court of Appeal convicted him of premeditated murder.

December 18, 2018: Dubai Court of Cassation overturned the former Gulf News editor’s sentence and ordered that his case be reviewed by another panel of judges.

June 12, 2019: The case is returned to Dubai Court of Appeal, where Matthew's defence team argues that he should be freed due to time served.

Updated: September 4, 2019 03:06 PM

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