x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UK mother jailed for adultery loses child custody fight

Court decrees that Marnie Pearce's two young boys will remain in the country with their father when she is deported following her release.

DUBAI // A British mother jailed for adultery has been refused custody of her two sons as she awaits deportation. Marnie Pearce, 40, was hoping her children aged eight and four would be returned to her, despite her conviction. Adultery is a criminal offence in the UAE. But after two failed appeals in the criminal courts, Dubai's family court today decided to award full custody of her sons to their father, Ihab el Labban, 42.

She will not be allowed to remain in the country after completing her three-month sentence in April. A friend of Pearce said: "We have been advised that under Sharia law Marnie still has a right to see the boys. However, if she is deported to the UK that will not apply, so we will continue to try to stop the deportation, allowing her to remain in the UAE. That will mean she is able to see the children. "We expected this outcome because of her conviction, but she is determined to still fight to see the children."

Pearce is not thought to have been present during the hearing, where she was represented by her lawyer, Samira Gargash. Mr el Labban is understood to have filed a suit for Dh20,000 (US$5,450) in damages against her for defamation of character because of the highly publicised nature of their split, which has attracted attention around the world. The couple separated in Dec 2007. Mr el Labban filed for custody in Feb 2008, then accused her of adultery. She denied the charge but was convicted in November last year and sentenced to six months in jail. The jail sentence was halved on appeal in January. Pearce went on the run with the children for a month but surrendered to police in time to fight a second and final appeal last week, which she lost.

Since she was imprisoned in February, friends say she has lost weight and fear she may be close to a breakdown. One said: "She is very up and down. Although she has not seen the boys, they have phoned her about seven times." British Embassy officials have asked the Attorney General to review the case and waive the deportation. Amnesty International and Fair Trials International have also backed her, saying the interests of the children must come first.

Mr el Labban was not available for comment. tyaqoob@thenational.ae