"2 years UAE detention for £2 taxi fare." After the recent cases of Jamie Harron and Billy Barclay, another Scotsman has come forward to speak about his own Middle East nightmare. 46-year-old businessman David Ballantine, reportedly lost his life savings after being detained in the UAE for 2 years after a mixup with a £2 taxi payment.
David’s explains how his own Dubai ordeal began in May 2013 with a mix up over a ride in a government owned state taxi. David says there had been some confusion with the taxi driver setting off with the wrong people in the car. According to David, he had told the taxi driver to stop, but the driver ignored him for 50 metres before pulling over near a policeman. Reportedly the driver angrily complained to the officer, who told David to pay the minimum amount of AED 10 (£2).
David says he went to an ATM a few metres away and withdrew some cash. He claims he dropped the money into the cab window. Having paid the £2, he went back to his friends.
“The driver must not have seen the note I dropped through his window. He was waiting for me to pay and when he saw in his mirror that I had walked back to my friends, he reversed the taxi aggressively back to where my group was. He accused me of not paying. I told him I had, and showed him where it was. He claimed that was his own money. He was angry by now, and not wanting to admit that he could be wrong.”
“It was really so ridiculous because he was getting angry over nothing. If I made any mistake it was my insistence that, yes, I had already paid him. But the driver just became more and more hostile until he physically attacked me. At this point I became worried. I was in a fight, in Dubai, where I knew the law could be harsh, and I knew the government employed taxi driver would be believed over the Westerner, regardless of evidence. I never attacked him back, just avoided him as much as I could.”
The same policeman came back, and asked for an explanation from the Dubai government taxi driver. David says the officer didn’t ask David for his side of the story, but instead arrested him on the spot.
“I honestly still hoped to put the matter behind me. A small fine, or a night in the cells,” says David. “The taxi money was paid. We proved this by showing 2 receipts. One for the AED 100 that I had withdrawn in front of the policeman, another for the AED 90 that I had in my pockets when I was taken to the police station. There was nowhere else I could have spent the money. But nobody was interested.”
Government owned. UAE red top taxis.
David tells how he was detained in the UAE for 2 years with his passport confiscated so he couldn’t leave Dubai before the trial. "I couldn’t work legally, so I worked ‘off the books’ for the first year, until eventually needing to rely on handouts from friends and family over the course of the following year," David says
"I was forced to sleep in hotel toilets. I took beatings from hotel security staff; and was even thrown down flights of stairs and assaulted in public restrooms by hotel security."
"After the two years in limbo," David continues, "I was sentenced to 69 days in jail. Ironically, one of the charges was 'outstaying my visa' A charge I could hardly have avoided as the police had confiscated my passport. Once those final 69 days were over, I was deported back to Scotland."
Since then David has been trying to get his life back together. His life savings gone, he has been in homeless units and on friends’ couches, but he is determined to fight his way back to success. He is currently trying to secure investment for a precious metal trading business business in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh.
Back on Scottish soil. David is rebuilding his life after the Dubai nightmare
The UK government did nothing to help, according to David. “They visited once, and gave me a list of lawyers that I couldn’t afford. The only people who have helped following my release are Detained In Dubai, specifically their CEO, Radha Stirling."
Stirling said, “Unfortunately, David’s case is not unusual. We are approached by dozens of cases a week where Brits are detained and experience unfair treatment. Recently Billy Barclay and Jamie Harron made the headlines, but these individual cases only reflect endemic problems with the UAE legal system. We have lobbied for the FCO to be more proactive and to increase their travel warnings for the UAE, because we continue to see an increase in the number of frivolous cases that often have devastating consequences”. Stirling adds, “David is part of a major class action being taken against the UK government for failing in their duty of care to British citizens who fall victim of the UAE’s deeply flawed legal system.
"David's taxi incident ultimately escalated to charges related to theft, non payment, rudeness, consumption of alcohol, assault and even overstaying his visa. It is important that tourists are aware of how quickly a small dispute can turn into a life impacting punishment. In David's case, this one night had severe consequences as he awaited lengthy legal proceedings, without government support and without the ability to work. There has been talk in the UAE about introducing tourism courts for expedited hearings and this would go a long way in ensuring that tourists are not made homeless while awaiting proceedings. There are many British nationals in this position right now. Jamie Harron was fortunate during proceedings that he had friends to stay with, but others have not been so lucky"
Extra information about this case:
- When David paid the taxi, he withdrew AED 100 from the ATM. He then returned to the taxi and the taxi driver held AED 90 change out of the window. David took the change and threw the AED 100 into the taxi window. The receipts from the ATM and the police custody sheet show this.
- David was arrested may 2013. The next 2 years were spent with repeated court dates, cancellations and delays. Eventually he was sentenced to 69 days in jail in late 2015 and then deported
- David's political career was as follows: Stood for Scottish Young Conservative Chairman against Murray Roxburgh. David was supported by Murdo Fraser and Andrew Rosindale. If the Conservative Party had not changed the electoral rules that year David would have won. In the event, he lost by 4 votes
David then stood as a councillor in Hamilton to help an existing MSP.
David was as the Scottish Libertarian Party's director of communication