Anguish for Edinburgh family as innocent father held in Dubai over counterfeit money mix up
Edinburgh plasterer William Barclay (Billy) and his family's holiday was going really well. The weather was amazing, the kids, Billy Jr. and his sister Madison, loved the huge Dubai Mall with its dancing water fountains. They had driven out to see the desert scenery and feed camels by the side of the road.
The holiday hit a bump when one day Billy and wife Monique went to change some money at an exchange in the Al Hamra Mall. One of the notes set off the counterfeit money detector, and the couple was told to wait for the police. Billy, who has never been in trouble with the police in his life, or even arrested, was taken with his family.
"It was distressing for the kids, to see their dad arrested" says Billy. "They have never been in a police car or police station. Myself and Monique reassured them, we knew that the police would investigate and see that it was an honest mistake."
Soon it seemed that Billy and Monique were right. The police interrogated Billy and kept him for 12 hours in Ras Al Khaima CID headquarters. They searched the hotel room and the family's possessions and when no other counterfeit money was found, satisfied with Billy's version of events, the police told the family they were free to go. No charges would be made.
"The relief was huge," confided Monique. "I mean, we knew it was a mix up. Either someone had given the note to Billy as change, or maybe the detector machine was faulty. There was certainly no intent from us to steal twenty pounds, but until you're released, you can't help but be frightened."
The couple had enjoyed the rest of the holiday so much that they didn't let the diversion ruin things. "I even double checked with the police," says Billy. "I asked them if we were clear to carry on our holiday, and also to come back to the UAE again if we wanted to. They told me 'absolutely yes' and that they wouldn't have released me unless I was cleared."
The family enjoyed the remainder of the holiday and before long the incident was reduced to a tale to tell when they got home. They all agreed that despite the 'mix up' with the £20 note, they all wanted to come back again next year.
The following year the Barclay family got off the plane at Dubai International Airport, ready to start their 2017 summer holiday and lined up to pass through immigration. When it was Billy's turn to go through, the officer processing Billy's passport saw something on his computer screen and told the worried father to wait while he made a call on his radio.
Monique and the kids then watched in horror as uniformed CID men arrived to handcuff Billy and escort him away. The family did not know what was happening or where Billy was being taken until Monique caught up with him outside about to be driven away in a police car. One of the officers told her he was being arrested for passing counterfeit money, and he was going to RAK CID headquarters again.
"We tried telling them about the mix up last year," Billy explains. "But for some reason I was in the computer as wanted for passing fake money still. I was held in shackles for 3 days in a cell away from my family."
Eventually he was released, but only on bail. Billy's passport was confiscated and he was not allowed to leave the country.
The holiday now ruined, and Billy facing a possible year in jail for what seems to be obviously a bureaucratic error, the family spent the rest of the week trying to get help from the British Embassy and waiting around their hotel room reassuring one another.
Monique has since had to return home to Edinburgh with the kids, while Billy still waits in the UAE to hear his fate. The couple have already burned through what savings they have to keep Billy in a hotel and pay taxis between various courts and police stations. "The UAE is decently priced for a holiday," says Billy. "But we can't afford for me to be staying in hotels like this, not working. If I were to be handed a prison sentence, it would cripple us financially"
Billy misses his kids the most. "I am very involved with them," he tells us. We are always going to the cinema and arcades together and walking our dog, Alfie. I just pray our family can be back together again soon."
Monique adds,"we just need him home. The kids cry every day. Billy normally coaches his son's football team three evenings a week, and those times are especially hard. The kids can't even speak with him on the phone because they get so upset"
Radha Stirling, CEO of British NGO Detained In Dubai, who are supporting the family released the following statement:
"The charge of circulating counterfeit money in the UAE can bring a punishment of a year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of several thousand Dirhams. Trials and any subsequent appeals are a very slow process and many people have lost their jobs, their homes, and seen their lives turned upside down just because of these avoidable delays in the legal process, even if they are eventually found not guilty.
"Clearly in this case, Mr. Barclay received a counterfeit note that was already in circulation and is himself a victim. Charging him over a fake note he received and passed unknowingly is not an effective way to deal with the problem of counterfeiting, and it once again highlights the risks visitors to the UAE face from the country’s legal system, which has not been developed as fast as the skyline has.
"Mr. Barclay was shocked by the charge, and is already suffering unduly because of the proceedings. He was detained for three days, moved from one facility to another in shackles, and though he is now out on bail, his passport has been confiscated and he is stuck in the UAE indefinitely. We hope that the charges will ultimately be dropped, but in the meantime, Mr. Barclay is in a very difficult situation. We are continuing to support him throughout the judicial process and hope for his speedy release”.