I was terrified – it was a mistake’: British businesswoman faces jail in Dubai after ‘having sex on the beach’

By Nicola Boden
Last updated at 4:56 PM on 09th July 2008

   Michelle Palmer

Businesswoman Michelle Palmer is facing up to six years in jail after she was caught having sex on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai

A British businesswoman allegedly caught having sex on a beach in Dubai has spoken of her ‘dread’ at a possible six-year prison sentence and branded the whole situation a ‘silly mistake’.

Publishing firm manager Michelle Palmer, 30, was arrested after a police officer apparently saw her in a compromising position on Jumeirah Beach.

She has been charged with having sex outside marriage, indecent behaviour in public, being drunk in public and assaulting a police officer.

Her companion is understood to have been a British holidaymaker she met for the first time at a champagne brunch with work colleagues earlier that day.

The manager, who has worked in Dubai for three years, has also been sacked  from her job with a magazine publishing firm as a result of the offences.

She faces a jail sentence of between three months and six years in the state, one of seven that makes up the United Arab Emirates which is known for its strict stance on sex and drugs.

Her case has sparked a storm of controversy among the many other British ex-pats living in Dubai, most of whom are incredulous at the prospect of anyone allegedly committing such a brazen breach of its laws.

In a message apparently posted on one Dubai blog site by Miss Palmer late last night, she says she made a mistake and is terrified about what might happen.

The message read: ‘We have all made silly regretful mistakes in life, of which some pay all too dearly and if these blogs continue it could hinder my fate.

‘I am good, I am kind and I am true. The fear I feel each time I close my eyes fills my heart with dread.

‘Please imagine if it were you, this is punishment enough. I beg you all – please stop this chain of harmful blogs…. Please be sympathetic to those I love’.


Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach has become a popular spot for expats and holidaymakers

The man also accused in connection with the incident last Friday has so far been named only as Vince.

It is claimed he and Miss Palmer were first seen kissing on the beach and cautioned by a police officer but ignored his warning and were caught having sex later.

The British woman allegedly hurled abuse at the officer and was arrested before being taken to a police station and charged.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘Two British nationals were arrested in Dubai. The case is currently under investigation.’

Miss Palmer and her companion are now due to go before Dubai’s Court of First Instance. The date of their hearing has not yet been set.

In a statement today, the 30-year-old’s employer ITP Publishing Group said she had been sacked for behaving inappropriately.

A spokesman said: ‘ITP Publishing Group can confirm that a member of its staff, Michelle Palmer, has been arrested by Dubai police for a number of serious public order offenses. Her case has, we understand, been forwarded to the public prosecution. 

‘Dubai, and the UAE, provide a tolerant, safe, liberal and rewarding environment for millions of expatriates from a wide range of nationalities and ITP, which employs some 600 staff representing over 20 nationalities in its Dubai-based operations, expects its staff to behave appropriately and properly in a manner consistent with the moral and cultural values of the society in which we all live and work.

‘To this end the company gives its staff clear guidance regarding what is and what is not acceptable in the UAE environment when they join the company. Following an internal review of this incident, the company has dismissed Ms. Palmer.’

The manager had earlier told of her fears the authorities were going to ‘make an example of us’ by giving the pair a higher sentence.

‘We are in so much trouble and my family and everybody are affected. Until someone is in this situation they could never know what it’s like. It’s bad – it’s so, so bad,’ she told the Sun.

‘They are being pushed into a corner to make an example of us. I’m panicking – my mum is on anti-depressants. I can’t say anything else. I’ve got to go.’

It was claimed she and her companion may have married in a civil ceremony out in Dubai after the incident in the hope of getting a lesser sentence.

Friends however told The National paper in Abu Dhabi they had only considered this out of ‘desperation’ and had not actually gone through with it.

An anonymous friend of Miss Palmer’s defended her today, describing her as a ‘nice girl who’s made a very big mistake’.

‘God only knows how she must have felt when she sobered up. She went out with a group of friends and workmates to a champagne brunch party,’ she told Daily India.

‘The booze was flowing all day and she must have got carried away by the time she met Vince – a pal of one of her workmates.

‘They went for a walk on the beach. They were pretty plastered and a cop found them having sex.’

She added: ‘The jails out here have a terrible reputation and Michelle’s praying they go easy on her. But they seem under pressure to make her an example.

‘Having sex in public here is taken very seriously. But it’s twice as serious if you’re not married.’

But bloggers on the Dubai Media Observer site appear to have little sympathy for the British woman.

An unnamed poster wrote: ‘On day one in the UAE I was told there are some things you can do, and there are certainly some things you can’t. Any strife she’s in is her own doing.’

In recent years Dubai has become a popular tourist destination, with visitors lured in by its pristine beaches, luxurious hotels and vast shopping malls.

In 2006 more than a million British visitors travelled to the UAE, and more than 100,000 British nationals live there.

But visitors need to take care to abide by its laws, which are notoriously strict. Sex outside marriage is illegal, as is cohabitation, adultery and homosexual behaviour.

The Foreign Office’s website says that public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.

General Major Khamis Al Mazina, the chief of Dubai police, said he does not consider the case to be typical of British or Westerners living or visiting the area.

Asked whether public indecency was a problem in Dubai, he told The National: ‘It is not a problem here.

‘Most Western residents and tourists who visit Dubai understand and respect the culture and this is an isolated case that does not represent the attitude or behavior of all Westerners.’


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