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Is Dubai safe for former British military personnel? Former soldier says not, as latest victim Robin Berlyn told he’ll never leave Dubai without paying “impossible amount of money”

Press release   •   Mar 10, 2020 15:27 GMT

Left: Perry Coppins. Centre and right: Robin Berlyn in Dubai and as a young Guardsman on duty at Windsor Castle

Perry Coppins, a former gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery who was detained in 2017 for having his prescription anti-depressants, believes that former British service personnel should be wary about visiting the Middle Eastern state of Dubai.

Perry, 64, had his antidepressants stored neatly in his cabin together with the prescription document when he was passing through Abu Dhabi port as part of his maritime security job. 

The border official decided on a whim that Perry had too many of his pills (Perry was on a long sea voyage, so his UK doctor gave him several months worth of his prescription). Perry was arrested and jailed. The father of 2, who is also a cancer victim, went through hell in a notorious Abu Dhabi prison, facing several years imprisonment before finally being released after a successful media campaign led by Detained in Dubai.

“A lot of British ex-forces personnel try and start a new life in Dubai,” Perry explains. “I only had the misfortune to be passing through the place. I had my Temazepam pills, which are legal anyway in the UAE. However the customs officer who saw them decided to make a unilateral decision, not backed up by any UAE law, that I had too many boxes of them. I was removed from the ship, arrested and facing years in jail without treatment for my prostate cancer. It was terrifying. And without Radha Stirling and her team getting my case out there in the media, I would either be still in jail or maybe have passed away.

Andy Neal. Served 14 months in jail despite police admitting they knew he was innocent

“Andy Neal, an ex army dog handler who had a dog training business in Dubai has also just been freed after his lengthy wrongful detention and subsequent acquittal. 

"Like myself he suffers severe PTSD and was in a notorious Abu Dhabi jail for allegedly being a drug dealer. He served 14 months before the police undid their mistake. There was no evidence against him at all except for a witness statement based on mistaken identity. The police quickly realised that Andy was innocent but still kept him in a dangerous jail for well over a year before Detained in Dubai’s media campaign got him released.

“Then we had John Murphy, an ex infantryman who was facing jail for touching a man’s hip. He was again freed only after the world’s media took an interest in his case.

“Now we have Robin Berlyn who was set up to take the fall for some pretty serious fraudsters who stole a load of money from people in Dubai but made sure all the business and accounts were in Robin’s name. He has served 16 months in a horrendous Dubai jail and has been told he may never leave Dubai until he pays £100,000. A sum he has no chance of obtaining. Robin is homeless, in need of hospital treatment and has not one pound to his name. He survives on handouts and cash work where he can get it.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands of people in the same boat. These are just recent people who were lucky enough to be published in the media.

“Clearly non military personnel also fall victim to the unforgiving Dubai legal system, but from my own experience, ex soldiers are even more vulnerable than civilians.

“I believe it is because of the military mindset. In the armed forces a career soldier learns that when they behave correctly, according to the systems in place, they are rewarded. Perhaps with responsibility, perhaps with promotions or commendations.

“The military is far from infallible but I think that soldiers, more than most people, expect and rely on a system that will back them up. The military way of doing things is constantly refined and improved in order to keep fighting units effective and efficient. A soldier, mess hall gripes notwithstanding, generally has faith that if they do the right thing, to the best of their ability, the system will look after them.

“Now take that same soldier to a country like Dubai, with a legal system that is totally unreliable. Ex soldiers often don’t realise that they no longer have a ‘safety net’ of common sense to rely on. There is nobody who will say, ‘obviously what has happened to this person is wrong. We need to get it sorted out.’ 

"Andy Neal, for example will have had complete faith that once the police admitted they had made a mistake, that he would then be released. Never in a million years would he have considered that he would still be in jail 14 months later and facing another possible 20 years inside.

“This latest case with Robin Berlyn is the same. The police know he has had none of the money that the fraudsters took. They can see that the masterminds have long since escaped and that Robin is as much of a victim as anyone else involved in the sorry mess. 

"Robin will have assumed that if he was completely open, if he cooperated without any holding back, and helped as much as he could, that the system would take this into account.

“He will probably even have accepted the 16 month sentence he has already served as just punishment for his, perhaps foolishly, allowing himself to be the company director and signatory. Ok, he wasn’t to know he was being set up to take the blame for a fraud operation but he would have taken this punishment on the chin and learned his lesson. British soldiers are resilient like that.

“What he could never have expected, and probably still can’t get his head around will be the fact that Dubai is saying he can never, ever leave the country. 

"He has to stay there, not legally allowed to work, unable to eat, with nowhere to live, and in desperate need of hospital treatment until he pays £100,000. This sum is totally out of reach for him. It will be incomprehensible to him that Dubai is literally telling him: ‘you have to starve to death.’

"The fact that he has been reported to be suicidal is no surprise to me. I felt like that myself before Radha Stirling and her team were able to get me home and free.

“Hopefully Radha can help Robin, as she helps many others, but really what’s needed is for everyone to be more aware of the dangers waiting for the unsuspecting visitor to Dubai. Not just ex soldiers, but everyone else too.”

Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, the leading organisation working to help victims of the UAE legal system says, “It is always disturbing when a British expat is wrongfully detained or falsely accused in the UAE, but of course, it is particularly offensive and damaging to bilateral relations when that expat is a former member of the British armed services. These are people who have served their country with distinction and bravery, quite often helping to secure the shared interests of our two countries in war zones throughout the region.

“They frequently suffer from psychological and emotional trauma as a result of their service and sacrifice, and have gone to the UAE hoping to build a stable future. No one can dispute that British servicemen and women have contributed immensely to the safety of the Gulf, helping to create the conditions for its prosperity; so when our veterans are victimised by legal abuse in the UAE, it is deeply upsetting to the entire British public. It is even more troubling when the FCO fails to intervene adequately on their behalf, considering their years of distinguished service.

“Cases like that of Robin, Andy Neal, Perry Coppins, and John Murphy seem to be occurring with increasing frequency; as are the incidence of legal abuse against expats in general. 

"The world is beginning to recognise the risks inherent in the UAE legal system and the unreliability of the government in protecting human rights; and the UAE has become a far less attractive destination for tourists and investors over the past few years. Serious reforms need to be pursued in the UAE, not just better marketing, before British expats and tourists can feel safe visiting the country.”

UAE Criminal and Civil Justice Specialists.  Contact us on info@detainedindubai.org or press@detainedindubai.org

(UK) +44 207 060 6900   (USA) +1 786 789 2347   @Twitter   @Facebook

Radha Stirling, is founder and CEO of UK / USA based legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.

Copyright © Detained in Dubai 2007-2019. Detained in Dubai Limited, is registered in England and Wales under company number 12145991 with its registered office at Kemp House, 180 City Road, London EC1 2NX UK

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