London surgeon held in Dubai after raising hands at motorist

A prominent London surgeon has been detained in Dubai on a charge of "public indecency" after an altercation with a motorist.

Joseph Nunoo-Mensah, a consultant colorectal surgeon at King's College Hospital, London, had his passport confiscated following the incident on 26 April in which he is alleged to have made a rude gesture. He has been told he could face a prison sentence and a wait of "months" before his case is heard.

At King's, cancer patients awaiting surgery have had their operations reallocated to other surgeons. Dr Nunoo-Mensah was travelling with his wife, Alison Walker, and three children and was due to return to the UK on 1 May. Ms Walker and the children instead returned alone.

The case is the latest in which British nationals have fallen foul of the strict laws governing public behaviour in the Arab state. Last month, Lee Bradley Brown, a British tourist, died in police custody following his arrest on allegations of assault, intimidating behaviour and using abusive language to a hotel chambermaid. Last year, a British couple were sentenced to a month in jail for kissing in public.

Dr Nunoo-Mensah, who was born in Ghana and is a British national, was in the United Arab Emirates at the invitation of the US Cleveland Clinic, which is building a medical centre there. The family were driving back to Dubai after a day out, on a section of road narrowed due to roadworks where there was a 60kph speed limit, when a man in a white car came up behind them.

Dr Nunoo-Mensah said: "The man was following us flashing his lights. I was trying to abide by the speed limit and couldn't move out of his way. I pulled over when I could but instead of overtaking us, he pulled up alongside, switched the inside light on, rolled down the window and drove in parallel with us for up to a minute. He was looking at me in an intimidating way – I was quite terrified.

"I raised both my hands to say, 'What do you want?' but he pulled back [to read the number plate] and then took off and turned right. He alleges I stuck a finger at him but I raised both hands. I am sure he must have seen them at an angle, and that was offensive to him."

Dr Nunoo-Mensah was called by the police the following day and had his passport confiscated. Without it he has been unable to get a hotel room and has been sleeping on the office couch of some Ghanaian contacts – his father, General Nunoo-Mensah, is a senior minister and national security adviser to the president of Ghana.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said it would provide assistance: "The UAE laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK and we cannot interfere in another country's legal procedures, just as they cannot interfere in ours."

King's College Hospital said it was in touch with Dr Nunoo-Mensah and some appointments for non-urgent patients had been rescheduled. "Surgical cover is being put in place to ensure our cancer patients are not adversely affected. We have every intention of running a normal service for all our patients, including those with cancer."

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