A British man has told of how a dispute with a taxi driver over an unpaid £2 fare in Dubai saw him jailed and trapped in the country for two years.
David Ballantine, 46, had his passport confiscated and was eventually sentenced to 69 days in prison after an altercation with a Dubai taxi driver in May 2013.
Mr Ballantine, a former Tory politician from Edinburgh, claims is was a simple misunderstanding over a fare he had already paid, and it ‘ruined his life’.
Mr Ballantine and a group of friends were starting their taxi journey, but immediately asked the driver to stop due to a misunderstanding of who was meant to ride in the cab.
However, he claims the cabbie continued to drive for about 150 feet, and pulled up near a policeman.
The driver complained to the policeman, who told Mr Ballantine that he would have to pay the minimum amount of AED 10 (£2).
Mr Ballantine claims he went to a cashpoint a few feet away, withdrew money and dropped it into the cab window.
‘He [the taxi driver] 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. 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.’
Witnessing the exchange, the same policeman came back, and asked for an explanation from the Dubai government taxi driver.
Mr Ballantine says the officer arrested him on the spot without asking him for his side of the story.
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 One for the AED 100 that I had withdrawn in front of the policeman, another for the AED 90 that I had in my pockets when I was taken to the police station.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.’
Mr Ballantine had his passport taken away in order to prevent him fleeing the country awaiting trial, but the court proceedings were dragged out and he ended up having to spend two years in Dubai.
Mr Ballantine, who is also a qualified masseur and claims to have been a stockbroker and financial adviser, says he lost his job as a result.
‘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.’
‘After two years in limbo, 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.’
Mr Ballantine is very critical of the British government, claiming they failed to help him with affordable legal support.
‘The UK government did nothing to help. 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.’
Detained in Dubai and Ms Stirling recently provided support for another Scot jailed in the UAE.
Jamie Harron, 27, was sentenced to three months imprisonment for accidentally brushing the hip of a man in a bar.
He recently returned to the UK after Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum waived his conviction.