A British businesswoman is facing six years in an Arab jail after apparently being caught having drunken sex on a beach in Dubai.
Michelle Palmer, 30, was allegedly found in a compromising position on Jumeirah beach with a British holidaymaker, named only as Vince, whom she had met that morning at a champagne brunch with her work colleagues. A police officer apparently spotted the couple having sex on the beach and cautioned them, only to return later to find they had ignored his warning.
Last night, Ms Palmer's employer, ITP Publishing, confirmed that she had been dismissed after being accused of "a number of serious public order offences", including having sex outside marriage, indecent behaviour in public and assaulting a police officer.
A spokesman said: "ITP... expects its staff to behave in a manner consistent with the moral and cultural values of the society in which we all live and work. To this end the company gives its staff clear guidance regarding what is and what is not acceptable in the United Arab Emirates [UAE] when they join.
"Following an internal review of this incident, the company has dismissed Ms Palmer."
A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that consular assistance was being offered to two British nationals who had been arrested on Saturday. He said the case was being investigated by the Dubai authorities but no formal charges had been brought.
In a blog entry she apparently posted last night, Ms Palmer spoke of her fear at what might happen to her. "We have all made silly regretful mistakes in life, of which some pay all too dearly ... The fear I feel each time I close my eyes fills my heart with dread ... Please imagine if it were you, this is punishment enough."
According to The Sun, Ms Palmer was said to have launched a tirade at the police officer who arrested her and threatened him with one of her high heels.
"Because this is known everywhere they're going to make an example of us and we're going to get a higher sentence. We are in so much trouble and my family and everybody are affected," she told the newspaper. "Until someone is in this situation they could never know what it's like. It's bad – it's so, so bad. They are being pushed into a corner to make an example of us. I'm panicking – my mum is on antidepressants."
While the embassy of the UAE in London had no comment to make yesterday, one insider insisted that it was not a "fundamentalist state". "If somebody was doing this in Hyde Park, I wonder what the British police would do? You have to conduct yourself with decorum."
In recent years Dubai has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. Each year about a million UK visitors travel to the UAE, while 100,000 expatriate Brits live there. Sex outside marriage is illegal in the UAE, as is cohabitation, adultery and homosexual behaviour. Visitors are warned that public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.
In 2001, a Dubai court acquitted a British tourist of violating public morals after he was arrested in the emirate's gold market dressed as a woman in robe and veil. Philip Hulks, 55, a retired electronics engineer, contended that the outfit was a present for his wife and he had tried it on for size.
Drugs have proved a bigger problem for some. In 2007, 59 Britons were arrested for drug-related offences in Dubai while in February, the Radio 1 DJ Grooverider was jailed for four years after two grams of cannabis were found in his luggage when he tried to enter the country.
Many commonly available prescription drugs such as codeine are banned and it is an imprisonable offence to carry some well-known antidepressants without a prescription. Among the 374 banned items are melatonin, which is taken to ease the effects of jetlag.