Gulf ruler's aide faces death trial

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The Independent Online
THE CASE opened yesterday against a British horseracing manager employed by the president of a Gulf state, who is charged with killing his girlfriend, a former beauty queen.

Duncan Alexander, who works for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, was charged after the naked body of Kerry Blackwell was found in a swimming pool at 3am one day last March.

Ms Blackwell, 30, a former Miss New Zealand finalist, was a bloodstock manager for Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, head of the royal family of Dubai and vice-president of the UAE.

Details of both the prosecution and defence cases were outlined yesterday before a court in Dubai, where Mr Alexander, 29, ran a racetrack and showjumping stadium in the desert.

It is understood that Ms Blackwell, from Auckland, died after spending a night out with Mr Alexander and friends at the residential suburb of Jebel Ali, south-west of the city centre, last March. After meeting for drinks with friends, Mr Alexander and Ms Blackwell went on to a nightclub before deciding to go "skinny-dipping" in a shared pool at her villa.

What happened next is not clear but Ms Blackwell was found floating in the pool; a nurse was called but it was too late to save her. The death certificate, sent to her parents in Auckland, said there was a large bruise on her forehead and that she died from a broken neck and the effects of shock. There were bruises on her arms and legs.

Mr Alexander, who entered the UAE on a British passport and has dual British and Irish nationality, has told lawyers that his girlfriend of just two weeks must have died after diving into the pool, which at the shallow end is 2ft 6in deep. He was charged with her death two months later, after a post-mortem examination.

He was not in court yesterday for the hearing, which was conducted in Arabic. After spending five weeks on remand in a Dubai jail, Mr Alexander, who has lived in Dubai for about two years, is on bail. However the authorities have retained his passport - and yesterday could not be contacted. His solicitor has refused to speak to journalists.

The case, which has been adjourned until 22 November, has sent shockwaves through the expatriate community of the UAE, formed in 1971 from seven autonomous emirates - including Dubai and Abu Dhabi - after the withdrawal of the British colonial authorities.

While the courts will almost certainly ensure the couple's royal employers are not troubled by the case, the mix of sex, drink, death and the links to the head and deputy head of state, has ensured the case has become a cause celebre.

Mr Alexander, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, could face several years in a Dubai jail if he is found guilty.

Ms Blackwell's father, Maurice, general manager of an Auckland-based firm, has voiced doubts about his daughter's death.

"I was suspicious from the very beginning," he said. "Kerry had all her wits about her and I don't care how much alcohol she may have taken, I don't believe she would have made such a silly mistake as to dive head- first into a shallow pool."

But her mother, Dale Donkin, who is separated from Mr Blackwell, believes her daughter's death was an accident. "I feel terribly sorry for this young man under investigation," she said.

"Kerry simply had a few drinks and made a fatal mistake about the depth of the pool. It was an accident. I am very angry that my daughter's death is being treated as something sinister when it was nothing of the kind."

The Foreign Office said yesterday it was in close contact with Mr Alexander and his family. His parents run an antiques business in Dublin.

A spokeswoman for the British embassy in Dubai said there was no guarantee that the case would continue to a conclusion. That would not be an unusual thing to happen under Dubai law.

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