A British couple were sentenced to three months in prison on Thursday after being found guilty of having sex on a Dubai beach following a champagne-fueled brunch.
Vince Acors, 34, of Bromley, southeast London, and Michelle Palmer, 36, of Oakham, Rutland, were also fined 1,000 dirhams (US$270) and will be deported after serving their sentences. They have 15 days to appeal.
The sentences were shorter than the maximum penalty of two years, and were described as lenient by prosecutors. But they are likely to cast a pall, at least temporarily, over Dubai’s Friday brunches, which are attended by thousands of expats and have become a routine way of starting the weekend. Just as Dubai’s Muslims head to the mosque for Friday prayers, beachfront hotels lay on “all you can eat and drink” spreads for a fixed price.
Brunch at the five-star Meridien hotel on Jumeirah beach, where Acors and Palmer were arrested in July, is one of the most popular. It costs US$60 to US$70 per person, lasts two-and-a-quarter hours and many people drink fast. A rival brunch at the Fairmont hotel promises unlimited Moet.
Acors and Palmer, who were not present in court, were seen romping in the early hours of July 5, after meeting for the first time at the brunch. Prosecutors said they were seen having sex on the beach after being dropped off by a taxi.
At an earlier hearing, a police officer told the court he had warned the pair about their inappropriate behavior, but returned later to find them having sex on a sun lounger.
He described seeing Palmer in his torch light with her “shirt off” and “sitting on” Acors, who was in Dubai on holiday.
Acors and Palmer both denied offenses of unmarried sex and public indecency but admitted being drunk at the time of their arrest.
Palmer, who was sacked from her job in Dubai as a publishing executive after her arrest, claimed they were “just kissing and hugging.”
She said: “We didn’t have sex together. I was lying on top of him.”
A friend said yesterday that Palmer has been suffering from depression, panic attacks and anxiety as a result of the case.
“She has been out once in the past three months,” the friend said. “And that was for her birthday because her friends made her go out.”
After the hearing at the emirate’s court of first instance, their lawyer, Hassam Matter, said: “I have spoken to them. They are upset. We are making an appeal against the verdict. They haven’t been arrested and taken into custody yet. I have 15 days to appeal.”
He said witness statements, including one from a police officer, were wrong. Medical examinations proved Palmer did not have sex, he said.
Speaking outside court, senior prosecutor Faisal Abdelmalek Ahli said he was disappointed at the length of sentences.
“I’m not happy,” he said. “It’s very light. It’s normal for a sentence to be six months to a year for an offence such as this.”
Ahli said he expected Acors and Palmer to serve their full three-month term in a Dubai prison.
“Sometimes people serve half their sentence, but this is so short I expect they will serve it all,” he said.
The case has highlighted Dubai’s complex social mores. The Friday brunches are attended by many of Dubai’s 120,000 British residents, who are attracted to the emirate by tax-free salaries. But behind that stands a strict Islamic code, not always strictly enforced, which makes displays of public affection illegal.
“[The brunches] can be heavy drinking sessions, and starting so early in the day can take some getting used to,” said Gemma, a British marketing executive with one of Dubai’s property companies, who asked for her surname to be withheld. “But they are the social highlight of the week and everyone goes along and tries the different places out.”
The UK charity Prisoners Abroad believes Dubai could be the riskiest place in the world for unwary travelers.
“The plight of this unfortunate couple should serve as a stark warning to anybody traveling overseas, especially to countries in the Middle East,” said Pauline Crowe, chief executive of the charity.
“As this case illustrates, what may seem like an innocent act or misdemeanor in the UK can often land people in serious trouble when abroad. Ignorance will not be accepted as an excuse by local courts,” she said.
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